Surviving a Bad Manuscript Critique
|Cathy-on-a-Stick with sister survivor, Scarlett|
I signed on for a professional manuscript critique, and when it was over, I staggered from my seat feeling like Georgia after Sherman marched through it. In fact, I wondered if the critiquer had used Sherman’s slash-and-burn methods (metaphorically) in the hopes that I would use Sherman’s methods (literally) so that no one would ever have to read what I had wrought.
That’s the way it goes with manuscript critiques. Sometimes, they’re very good; other times, they’re just plain rotten. And that can be for the very same manuscript. But I’ve learned how to survive the bad evaluation and go on my merry writing way. And you can, too.
Give Yourself Time
You will want to scream and yell and rip your pages to shreds. Or you will want to bury every shameful word you’ve ever written in a deep, dark hole. Perhaps you will want to bury the critiquer in a deep, dark hole. But what you must do instead is give yourself some time so that the raw emotion swirling in your soul can recede.
I know it’s tempting to wallow in misery, or worse, rant and rave, especially to friends and fellow writers. But resist the urge to vent loudly (particularly if you are within shouting distance of other professionals) and save the tears for the bathroom stall. Find a quiet spot and collect yourself so that you can move on.
Good, Old Perspective
It’s tough when you receive tough criticism. It’s tougher, really, than a curt “not for me” rejection. Because with a critique (which you paid for!), you are forced to sit through the excruciating exercise of someone telling you exactly why your work stinks. What you need is a little perspective.
Here’s what I do. I give myself a pep talk. I think of a time I’ve been challenged and how I survived, and I start to feel a bit empowered. And then I count all the wonderful blessings of my life, and I start to feel grateful. It’s not long before good, old perspective kicks in. The world will keep spinning, friends and family will still love me, and I’ve still got a pretty nice roof over my head—even if my manuscript is the pits. I’m ready to move on to the truth.
Facing the Truth
In the midst of curling into a fetal ball, you may not be ready for the truth of your evaluation. But after time, and a healthy dose of perspective, you can take a look at the notes thoughtfully provided by your critiquer. You can relive that less-than-delightful one-on-one experience and maybe even recall some of what was said.
First, look for the positives. I guarantee you that there will be a note or two of praise in your critique. Second, cling to those words as you peruse the pages and perhaps you’ll have the courage to accept the flaws of your work. You can fix flaws.
Or you can chuck that manuscript and start on something new. Or you can even ignore the entire evaluation. But don’t let one bad critique defeat you. Get back to work and write. After all, tomorrow is another day.
~Cathy C. Hall