We have a cat! This is what he looks like.
Not too happy, right?
Anyway, I bring him up because I've watched him interact with other cats, and I've come to this conclusion.
Writers are a lot like cats. Both are creatures completely skeptical of their own kind. Upon meeting, they could get along perfectly well or they could end up in a hissing match and claw one another’s eyes out. Why is that?
Well, namely because writers are full of two things, and one of them is opinions. And they will not hesitate to share those opinions (along with everyone else who reads your work). That can usually end up like this down below.
For some reason, there is an innate desire within a writer to tell other writers how he or she could have written it differently, which, of course, in their mind means better. And yes, this applies to me as well. To rid yourself of that impulse, you must first recognize it within yourself.
Honesty is the first step in recovery.
However, sometimes these opinions (or critiques) can be contradictory, depending on who is reading your work. So how does a writer navigate through the many contradictive critiques with which he or she will be “blessed”?
Here are a few rules I have developed for myself concerning critiques over the past few years.
Always listen to what others say.
You never want to pass on good advice or critiques. So if one comes along, you should pick it up and incorporate it. Just because your characters think you know everything, doesn’t mean you do. If you simply ignore a critique without evaluating it, you could lose out on making your story even better.
Don’t feel as if you have to accept everything others say.
No one knows the story better than you do, and as soon as others dictate your writing, it ceases to be yours. You might as well hand the story over to them. You must never give up the confidence to choose what is right for your story. If you do, how can your characters trust you to build their world, to help them through the trials they are about to face. In the end, the story is yours. Remember that!
Never accept the advice of anyone who begins a sentence with “I would’ve done it this way...”
You want the critique to be about your story, not about the other writer. People who offer critiques that way value their opinion more than they value your story. It is hard for me to trust anyone who comes across so arrogantly. What I have found in life is this: Those who are harshest with their criticism are usually the ones who are most sensitive when it comes to their own work.
In the end, you don’t have to accept any of this. It may be right; it may be wrong. After all, I’m merely a writer.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.