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Chewing on a Critique

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Chewing on a Critique

Everyone who writes wants to be told how wonderful they are. There are few things that inspire a giddy elation quite like being told you are wonderful and talented.

If I get a review, or if during an interview some wonderful things are said, oh joy, oh bliss, oh happy day. I can wander about for hours afterward basking in my own umm, brilliance, yeah, that’s it.

But it doesn’t always help.

A writer, a creator of any sort learns and grows not from the praise, but from the intelligent commentary that makes us better. Not all critiques should be glowing, not all comments should be a praise. If they are then you are either more brilliant than the Sun, or more likely, not asking the right people.

Mom says I’m brilliant. So does my best friend Steve, and the other day so did this girl I met at the coffee shop.

But are they good critics?

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There are two types of negative criticisms you will get.

The worst are the trolls, the angry, the jealous and the unskilled. They tend to be easy to spot because they will offer nothing of substance, no intelligent commentary. Insults may be tossed out, pointless comments that are lacking any substance about what was written.

It happens.

It will continue to happen.

Get over it, have a laugh at them and move on.


Do not make the mistake of lumping anyone who disagrees with you into this category. This is a huge mistake, a constant one, the worst one you will make.

“You’re story sucks!”

This is a troll

“You’re story sucks because all the characters were named Bob, they spent all 18,000 words sitting in a circle muttering incoherently, and they never spelled out their numbers, they used the numeric numbers showing they are amateurs at writing. Develop a plot sometime!”

This is NOT a troll.

Even if you hate their opinion, their comment, their conclusion, you have to show some appreciation. They spent the time and effort at least giving you some feedback you can use. They pointed out some things that may be technically wrong. They commented on your style and usage. They took the time to give you their opinion as a reader.

And guess what….

The readers matter.

Honest they do. They really do.

If you are just writing for yourself, for your own ego, your own aggrandizement, your own pretentiousness, well, ‘I gots some bad news fer ya’. You will never be happy as a writer. You will never be happy because you will never get published by anyone serious. You may self publish, you may get the odd small acceptance, the occasional one-off, but you will never be a great writer for the simple reason that writers write for readers.

Yes, I know, and I insert a large ‘sigh’ here. We all write for ourselves. The great way to find truth is to write for yourself. That said, we also write for the readers, gentle readers, noble readers, cash paying readers who fill our pockets and help us eat.


  1. A work is posted. You wait. The first criticism arrives.
  2. You read the criticism and then reread it.
  3. Make a careful determination, is it just an insult or is there useful advice?
  4. You DO NOT have to agree with it, in part or in whole for it to be useful.
  5. If it is just an insult, ignore it, laugh at it, move on.
  6. If it is useful, learn from it, consider what is said, they may be right.
  7. DO NOT act like a spoiled princess, and whine because it does not say you are great.
  8. Consider it carefully, compare other stories, compare other critiques.
  9. Apply the knowledge as required.
  10. Be a better writer.

A number of years go I had a woman ask me to review her autobiography. My first question to her was “Who are you, and why are you important enough to spend twenty dollars on?”

She didn’t like that question.

I explained to her that this is a basic truth about biographies. People only want to buy ones about someone famous, infamous, world renown. She was an unremarkable woman living a rather small life in a rather small town. What made her story worth the cost of buying it?

We spoke.

I read.

I told her to stop.

I told her not only to stop writing it, but to erase it, or at least keep it hidden somewhere that no one will ever find it. You see, gentle reader, she was not writing a bio per se. She was writing a litany of complaints against her family. It was her life story of whine. He magnum opus of bitching. She wanted every single member of her family to know how badly they had treated her. How they had ignored or been mean to her, etc.

She hated my criticism. She hated everything I had to say and she refused to listen. She took all the advice she was given and threw it out. Instead she finished it, printed it and gave it to one of them to read. Within weeks it had circulated through the family. Everyone was offended, enraged, disgusted and in the end she had almost totally isolated herself.


Because she was operating on ego alone. She was so focused on her own wants she ignored the wants of the readers, her audience. I don’t know if things ever got better for her professionally or personally. One thing I am pretty sure of is this.

Even though my critique told her not to do this, I bet she still hates my criticism.

A bit of an extreme example I admit. Not quite the same as saying “Stop writing in the past tense”, “Stop writing in the first person.”

I hope you get what I mean.

I have found the very worst, the most awful thing a writer can be told is “That’s nice” or nothing at all. We need to grow, all of us. We need to learn and to experience and to develop. We need to become the best writers we can be, and we are not going to do that through only listening to praise.

We become better writers by learning to chew on our critiques.

Chewing on a Critique was last modified: August 15th, 2013 by Craig Murray

7 Responses to "Chewing on a Critique"

  1. Jack Eason
    Jack Eason  Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 15:37

    “The worst are the trolls, the angry, the jealous and the unskilled. They tend to be easy to spot because they will offer nothing of substance, no intelligent commentary. Insults may be tossed out, pointless comments that are lacking any substance about what was written.”

    Never was a truer statement made Craig.

    Currently, Goodreads is by far the worst book site, simply because its administration fails to stand by its contributing authors, preferring instead to ignore the often vicious attacks made by its in-house trolls. These days Goodreads either blocks, or simply bans an author for daring to stand up to the attacks. Where is the justice in that line of thinking? :p

  2. MystiParker
    MystiParker  Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 16:05

    This is a great article! I totally agree with all of it. Sugar coating, silence, or just plain meanness doesn’t help us grow at all. Especially with critique partners. My goal as a critiquer/reviewer is to be honest, but nice. I gravitate toward those who feel the same to critique my work.

    Thanks for this post. Sharing! ~Mysti

  3. Paula Shene  Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 17:54

    Viable advice, one hopes to get from the pre-publication readers and not the buyers.

    Good to see you on here, as I lost you in my flood of threads on Facebook.

  4. Craig Murray
    Craig Murray  Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 18:37

    thank you all so very much. It is advice good writers don’t need and bad writers hate lol

  5. Angie  Friday, August 16, 2013 at 10:08

    Thank you, Craig, for this very sensible outline!

  6. Paula Boer
    Paula Boer  Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 3:17

    Good advice indeed. I add one more point. When you receive a manuscript assessment, or review, or critique of any other kind, it is human nature to focus out of proportion on the bad points (or rather, the negative constructive useful information we should be absorbing!). In marketing, it is said that it takes 12 good messages to offset one bad one. I think for a writer, it takes more like a hundred good reviews to offset a negative one.

    Having said that, I once received an assessment that had me crying solidly for a day. I thought the author had slammed my writing at every possible word and paragraph. Five years on, I reread that assessment – every word was true, and it had all been said in a very positive manner with useful suggestions on how to improve. It is only since I have learnt those lessons the hard way that I can now see the wisdom in the review.

    When doing manuscript assessments for other people, I always bear that one I received in mind. I always start, and end, by pointing out what is great about a piece (even though sometimes that can be hard to identify) and ensure the comments that could be construed as negative are sandwiched between these points. My own pain still resonates.

  7. Craig Murray
    Craig Murray  Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 23:10

    Thanks Angie, and thank you Paula

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