Develop the Critic Within
Criticism about your writing is going to come in many forms. Someone you don’t know may write a review of your book in a newspaper. Someone you trust might offer a critique of your draft. You might get feedback from a writing group or read comments online at Amazon or Goodreads. Despite whether the criticism is constructive or destructive (and there’s a major difference), it is important to take all of it into consideration before throwing away as much of it as you wish.
First off, most feedback you get from friends will be over-complimentary, so you have to take their “This is amazing!” comments with a grain of salt. These blanket statements will not be very helpful in guiding you to make needed changes or revisions to your manuscript. But the support feels good, so use that positive energy to help you dive back into your revision process with vigor and confidence.
Strangers are more likely to offer “deconstructive” criticism — meaning they will comment on the negative aspects of your story, style, grammar or writing mechanics without offering anything in the way of how to improve in those areas. You see this often on Amazon (e.g., “This book sucks. The characters are boring. The ending was predictable.”), but I have seen many experienced magazine editors reject stories with the same type of poor feedback. People will tear down your work in the name of “offering a critique”; but unless they offer techniques on how to improve specific areas of your book, then the criticism is “destructive” and should be taken lightly.
A true professional — and someone who has an honest-to-goodness love of writing and reading — will offer a “constructive” critique that points out your strengths and weaknesses, offering specific advice on how to maximize or minimize them, respectively. This is the feedback you should focus on the most. Learn where you can get better, and try new ideas and techniques during your revision. You never know what might bring your book to the next level.
But also keep in mind that if most comments — either destructive or constructive — mentioned that the dialogue is weak or that the ending felt rushed, then there is a definite problem in those areas, and you should focus on them. A reader is a reader no matter how they offer feedback, and it is good to look for patterns in their comments despite any negativity. Taking in everyone’s comments and thinking them over will help you develop your inner critic.
And then, once you dive back into your book with new ideas and fresh eyes, forget the critics. You know best what you want to say in your story, so say it. It’s your adventure, not theirs. If you want your characters to be named “Jack and Jill,” but everyone else says it’s corny, forget them. Go with your gut. The result might not please everyone, but you will end up with your book, your story. And that’s what matters most.
Where do you seek constructive criticism?