How to Survive Criticism to Take Your Manuscript to the Next Level

Editing a manuscript requires input and critique. Click for how to take criticism and improve your manuscript!

No one likes to be criticized, least of all me. If the criticism hits my soft capuchin belly pie, it feels as if I am bare ass naked on stage, my flaws exposed to the world. It makes me defensive. Now, I’m going to have nightmares…

BUT, if you’re in the business of creating a product, then critique is imperative to take it to the next level. As a consumer, you want it to go through a lot of testing before you buy, right? I do.

Writers craft manuscripts which, hopefully, become books, so it strikes me as odd when some people don’t know how to take criticism or bounce around until they find critique partners who tell them their work in progress is perfect. Sometimes, it seems as though their story becomes an extension of the person. Even when some writers are lucky enough to receive feedback from agents or editors, they may turn their backs and go into hedgehog mode.

Hedgehog mode when receiving criticism

Criticize the manuscript? You have personally attacked the writer. Sheesh! That said, I always begin my critique with the parts that I really liked so the writer stays in a calmer state; one without shields and sharp defensive weapons.

A manuscript is a totally editable, pliable, and malleable product.

Until my manuscripts are published, I’m up for anything that improves on it. Bring it on!

I’ve been in a book club since 2000. Even if the novel has made every best seller list and is still on them, there will still be a few of us who may not like it. We read through the lens of our unique point of view created through life experience.

Sometimes we have found small problems in big books that really threw us out of the story. Ten seconds on Wikipedia could have avoided the problem. Why didn’t the author take the time? Why???

Only a few of the books we have read.

My bookshelf filled with great books!

Reading a book is a huge investment of time.

This commodity has become as scarce as seeing a rabbit in my backyard during a full moon. My neighborhood is prime territory for coyotes. Do you have a pile of books you will never, ever read in a corner of your bedroom like I do? Read a few pages and a favorite (overused) word leaps from the page, or the weather in the New York Times Bestseller’s setting doesn’t come close to reality, every character’s voice sounds alike and conversation is unrealistic, there’s no tension, nothing happens for pages on end, or you could care less about the main character? *stops to inhale*

There are tons of reasons why we all have books we won’t ever finish. Sometimes they are brilliant, but just not relatable.

No matter how long I polish my books, there will be readers who don’t like it.

I want my book to waste the time of the least amount of readers.

How do we do that?

Learn rule #1. Your work is not your child. 

And even if it were, you would want the best for it. Unlike a child, who could stick out its tongue, throw itself on the ground and have a tantrum, you have complete control over it. You can mold it, shape it, tear it down, and start over. I’m in slash and burn mode right now with a project. It’s the only way to straighten out the kinks for critique.

Discipline your manuscript. Get it in front of readers. If you hear the same criticism a number of times, truly consider the suggestions and revise the pages before it’s in hard copy.

When you’re writing the story, it can be hard to get any perspective. There may be times when you can’t decide what should stay and what should go. Critique partners can help you with that.

Fraternal twins duke it out inside my head while I work on a manuscript. That's why critique partners are so important!

Writers are entertainers.

Writers are in the entertainment industry. We want our readers to be swept into our stories to hang out with our main characters while they fight dragons, or nasty bosses, or serial killers on fantastical planets, inner cities, or dark alleys.

Good stories linger. Their characters pop into our minds while we make coffee. They whisper in our ears throughout the day until we pick up the book and slip inside the story once again. I love that transformative feeling.

Don’t use critique as your rewrite. Learn to write.

Learn the craft. Understand the mechanics. Take classes. Go to writers conferences. Buy craft books. Read novels. Lots of novels. If you become a successful author, but have depended on others to do your revisions, you may eventually feel like an imposter. That happens. I spoke with a keynote speaker at a conference who admitted her editor does all the work. What happens when that person retires?

Literary agent, Donald Maass mentioned this same issue in this podcast. A first book takes a long time to write. First manuscripts take a long time to write. They go through lots of critique and tons of revisions before gaining interest from an agent. Then it is polished once again before it’s published. There won’t be as much time to revise the second. A lot less people will critique and edit it. That’s why second books often don’t sell as well as the first. It is imperative to learn the craft. 

You’re the storyteller. You decide.

Make sure the critique resonates with you. Don’t be bulldozed into revisions you don’t believe in. It’s your story. You’re the storyteller. Try to see it through their eyes. Listen, then decide if it makes the story better. If it does, then revise it!

I don’t use all the criticism critique partners offer me either; only the parts that make sense to my story. Many times they don’t remember what happened in the beginning of the novel and obviously don’t know what’s coming. I’ve had some that wanted to revise sentences which took out my character’s voice, completely.

And this is classic: critique partners wanted me to reveal everything NOW! Don’t do it. You need hooks and unanswered story questions to pull readers along.

I’m reading Horns by Joe Hill. Oh, my God. The book starts with Ig having a horrific hangover. He rubs his temples and has grown horns. Overnight! He is having a hard time remembering what he did, but he knows it’s something terrible. Ig still hasn’t revealed what he did and I’m starting chapter twelve! I’m sure someone in Joe’s critique group wanted him to include it in those first chapters. That’s only one of the story questions. The others, of course, are how in the hell did he grow horns and what kind of alternate reality is this?

It’s a great October read!

Horns by Joe Hill

It’s funny. Usually, a critique underscores something I had doubts about. That’s what I change first. But the best is when someone sees a problem I hadn’t noticed. That stokes me up because…. it’s fixable!

Nobody’s imagination works quite the same way. It’s good to see how others perceive what’s going on in our stories. Our unicorn slaying witchdoctor who lives under Pearl Street in Boulder could be misunderstood by readers if we rely on subtext and don’t explain that unicorns are vicious predators. We need to make sure that our intentions in writing are clear.

So, how do you find critique partners? Go to writers conferences and ask around. Meetups often include drop-in critique groups. Ask your writer friends. I’ve seen some writers on Twitter reach out through the #writingcommunity hashtag to share pages online.

There isn’t a way to avoid one star reviews. There are always going to be people who can’t relate or think the writing is horrible or whatever. I want to make that percentage as low as possible. That’s why I put my bare ass naked book on stage and let the opinionated crowd have at it BEFORE it’s published.

Do you have critique partners? Does someone look over your blog posts? How do you take criticism?

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How to Survive Criticism to Take Your Manuscript to the Next Level. Click for survival tips and why critique groups are imperative for polishing pages! Writing tips | novel writing | writers life | creative writing #novelwriting #writingtips #creativewriting #critique #polishingamanuscript

42 thoughts on “How to Survive Criticism to Take Your Manuscript to the Next Level

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  1. Tried the movie version of Horns and it was so rife with profanity that I quickly shut it off. (And usually profanity doesn’t bother me!)

    =====

    In other news, I thought you were going to be talking about professional editors, so you get to hear what I have lined up anyway. (*guilty chuckle*)

    I think about getting traditionally published, but first, I have to have a manuscript I want to show to an agent. And then there are stories like…

    – The YA historical fiction author that couldn’t write about Hatshepsut because her editor wants “the next Fault in Our Stars”–never mind that’s not the sort of thing she writes.

    – The urban fantasy author who was dropped by 47North because he didn’t get enough in presales for one of his books–nevermind that wasn’t for his most popular and longest-running series.

    – The fantasy author whose book I panned and she PMed me to tell me that her editor forced her to cut her manuscript in the middle and here’s the second book. (The editor was an idiot–the first book would’ve been much better if both parts were kept together.)

    I’d like an advance and bigger than 30c royalties just like anybody; but if editors are going to keep making stupid demands, I’ll continue to stay in my self-published nook and not venture out!

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    1. I figured the movie didn’t do well since I hadn’t seen it advertised. The book contains very little profanity, so you might enjoy it. Too bad I’m not on my phone or I’d include a little devil icon. 🙂

      Speaking of horror stories. LOL! It’s a business. Publishers, editors and agents invest a lot of time {which means money) in a book before making a penny. There are good and bad editors, but we’ll only hear about the bad ones since anything rife with problems = tension = a great story! 🙂 I have nothing against self-publishing, but believe that no matter how we get our books into the hands of readers, we owe them a polished book. Manuscripts should go through critique groups, beta readers, AND pro edits too.

      I can’t wait to read your book, Daya! What’s it about?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your sensible thought

    On Fri, Oct 4, 2019, 3:06 PM Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride wrote:

    > susielindau posted: ” No one likes to be criticized, least of all me. If > the criticism hits my soft capuchin belly pie, it feels as if I am bare ass > naked on stage, my flaws exposed to the world. It makes me defensive. Now, > I’m going to have nightmares… BUT, if you’re in ” >

    Like

  3. I have seen many novels with good plots and great ideas, but they are so poorly edited that I can’t bring myself to finish reading them. I work as a copy-editor and find it disturbing to see poorly edited work published. Many authors go through a lot of hard work and then don’t want to spend the money on a good editor. If they don’t think it’s important to publish their best writing, why would anyone want to read it? Along with the usual typos, repeated words, filtering issues, punctuation, and misused words, there are grammar issues to look at. I’m not even going to mention the nightmare of misusing the verb “to lie/lay.” I wish every writer could see the value of having a good copy-editor.

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    1. Me too! It seems like there is a disconnect between passion for writing and learning the craft. I don’t think I will ever stop learning and am a sponge for writing tips.

      Thanks for weighing in, Anneli. I hope you get some referrals from this post!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yup, yup, yup, yup. Especially that part about the first book taking LOTS of time to write. My second book is so much better than my first because I have matured as a writer. I’m hopeful my third will even stronger still. (If I ever get the damn thing finished)

    Thanks for sharing the reminder tips for those of us who have already leapt off the cliff into the publishing world.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

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    1. I didn’t know you got one published! Congratulations, Patricia! No wonder I don’t see you around as much. Woohoo!

      Writing takes a lot of time. Every manuscript needs lots of attention, care, and “discipline!” 🙂

      Like

  5. It’s pretty true that to write well, you must read a great deal before, during, and after. It’s not wasted time. Somehow you absorb so much from reading others’ works.
    Great advice in this post. Like you say, realize the manuscript is a a living changing thing – and not a child – how many time have you written something only to have a friend/readers say “I’m confused, what it this?” Sometimes our brain gets so into the writing that you think you’ve included all necessary info/connections when you haven’t – your’ brain just automatically invisibly adds it into your neurons without putting it into actual words. Writing is a battle – but a fun run with one.
    Enjoyed the post

    Like

    1. Thanks, Phil!

      Exactly! I can visualize something so well and don’t realize others can’t. There’s a balance between describing the graphic in the wallpaper and the design in the oriental rug like Barbara Taylor Bradford and moving the story forward at a breakneck pace like Dan Brown.

      Are you writing a book, Phil?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I find Profane language just ruins writing, even comments. Even want to be or polite profanity is distastefully cheapens writing. unless your a wordsmith, then you can swing all the Dick and Jane that you want at the shin – dig.

    Oh what a dear and lovely hedgehog, they’re so cute… and delicious. 😉

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      1. You Said Prickly… ha ha… now that was just naughty. / No your bare ass description was quite lovely indeed. Yes they are, cute they are indeed. Butt, I really think the cute title goes to ‘sugar gliders’. sweet, Now that was just so fun and naughty. 🙂

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  7. Great post! As you say, the way authors receive criticism is related to the way in which they are emotionally entangled with their work – the issue being that critics usually aren’t so engaged with it. Publishers aren’t engaged that way at all; their focus is on the abstract quality of product, their brand, and commercial outcomes. It’s in the gap between all these views, I suspect, that the trouble begins…

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    1. I wonder if it’s worse for memoir when the writer is being judged on a personal level.

      Do you think it could also entail ego, Matthew? Every writer wants to believe they’re improving. Most of us spend so much time on craft! When someone points out a swing and a miss in a project, they may feel gutted that their manuscript isn’t perfect and needs another rewrite. But whether it’s a plot hole, story structure problem, or whatever, it threw the critique partner out. If it’s something other readers and the writer can see as well, then it’s a HUGE GIFT to fix it before querying or publication.

      I didn’t mention the flip side of critique. Given the chance, readers could add a redline or two in the BEST books out there! “Everyone’s a critic.”
      Great to see you!

      Like

  8. Fascinating post Susie. So interesting to learn how you approach writing and redrafting your books. I guess every author does it slightly differently though but you’re saying just be yourself and do it your own way aren’t you? Love to write a novel but never sat down to think or start. Maybe …..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is really about the importance of leaning how to take criticism to improve any project. Sometimes writers ask for critique and then get super defensive. I find that it wastes everyone’s time. There are different ways of getting readers to look over a manuscript, but if we don’t listen to consistent (several readers pointing out the same problem) criticism before querying an agent or before a manuscript is self-published, there’s a good chance the book won’t do as well.
      My first blog post won an award on Salon.com. I thought I’d have a book out in a year or two. LOL! It’s like comparing stitching up a cut to brain surgery! I had a lot to learn. Thanks, Jonno!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I used to have somebody look over my blog posts, but not anymore. Ever since I discovered Grammarly, I’ve become a lot more confident with my writing. Sure, the odd mistake sometimes gets though, but I think that happens with most of us. I’ve also found that making the time longer between writing and publishing a blog post, helps. I used to write and publish on the same day. Not anymore. There’s now at least a 7-day window between the first draft of a blog post and publishing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, Hugh! It’s always great to see you.

      I started this blog post on Monday and blogged it on Friday. I have to get away from longer posts to straighten them out and revise them before publishing. Sometimes I publish photo posts the day I write them since they don’t require a lot of text. Danny is my blog editor, but he doesn’t get paid much. LOL!

      I loved Grammarly, but it froze up my emails. It was super frustrating. I’m sure they fixed the bug by now. Do you have the premium version? It really helped me find missing or duplicated words and repetition.

      Do you have critique partners for your books?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same here, Susie. If it’s a post that only includes a photo (e.g. Wordless Wednesday), then I’ll publish it on the same day. However, my new blogging schedule now only sees me publishing one blog post a week, so I’m less likely to do photo prompts. I prefer, instead, to write a post (usually blogging tips).

        Yes, I have the premium version of Grammarly. I can’t tell you how much it’s helping me, especially with me being dyslexic.

        I had beta readers for my two books. I’d highly recommend to anybody thinking of publishing a book to have beta readers. They find plot holes and lots of mistakes the author often can not see. They were of great help to me. I see their role as important as having a professional editor to edit your book.

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        1. I’ve cut back on blog posts too, Hugh! If something comes up, like my podcast blunder, I blog more often, but I have to concentrate on writing books.

          It occurred to me after I commented that I can copy and paste blog posts into Grammarly. I’ll definitely do that next time. The free version still catches the little things. Thanks for the reminder!

          I totally agree about beta readers. Finding what doesn’t work early on can save a ton of time too!

          Happy Monday, Hugh!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I write my blog posts on Grammarly, and then cut and paste them onto WordPress, Susie. I have no problems with this. However, I have heard that other bloggers are having problems copying and pasting from Word into the new Gutenberg editor.

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              1. I haven’t read your post yet, but did you know that WordPress is withdrawing support for the Classic editor from the end of 2020 and discontinuing the classic editor altogether from the end of 2021? Don’t get left behind when the changes start to take effect.

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  10. You’re so right — reading a book IS a big investment of time. I used to finish every book I started almost without exception, but years ago it hit me that I’m under no obligation to keep slogging away if what I’m reading doesn’t click with me. I think anyone who follows your excellent tips has a much better chance of being read all the way through!

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