Earlier this month I got an email from my youngest sister, Katie, who told me she was writing again. She’d enrolled in a few courses at her local university and asked if I’d like to be critique partners.
Another writer in the family! A new critique partner! Katie’s a natural, one of those writers who makes it look effortless. She’s got a lot more innate talent than me. I think she’ll do great.
Still, every writer frets about sharing work for the first time. It puts us out there and makes us vulnerable. That’s what happened to Katie. She’s just lived through her first workshop, in which students submitted a short story for peer critique. The experience left her feeling gutted, like a complete failure. She wrote to me:
After my first critique (which was a very very harsh critique that tore my piece apart) I went home and cried all night and then spent the next week seriously doubting whether I really am a writer or not, and feeling like a worthless pile of sh*t.
Boy, do I know how she feels.
I’ll never forget my first workshop. I went into it with a little too much confidence. Until I read a classmate’s submission. It was noticeably better than the rest of ours (that student was author Kourtney Heintz). Reading her segment, as well as her feedback on my own piece, showed me how much I had to learn. It was good for me. Helped put my ego in check.
I shared this experience with Katie to show her that every writer goes through periods of doubt. Critiques, as hard as some are to swallow, are only meant to help. Every first draft is flawed, but we have to keep writing if we want to improve.
Of all my critique partners, Larry is the toughest on me. Each time I send him a piece I hold my breath, because I know he’s going to let me have it. I typically need a few days to “recover” from his critiques, and even longer to digest his comments, but after some distance I can return to his feedback with some perspective. In almost every case, I have to admit he’s right.
Can you recall your first critique? Do you find it easier to accept criticism the longer you write?