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What You Need to Know About Receiving Critique
San Francisco Writers Conference San Francisco Writers Conference
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco, CA
Saturday, October 9, 2021


By Elisabeth Kauffman

Receiving critique is an important and unavoidable part of a writer’s life. Everyone has an opinion on how well a story is told in fiction, or whether you’ve made your point clearly and decisively enough in a nonfiction piece. But just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean you should accept them as true. People whose opinions probably aren’t helpful when you’re looking for meaningful critique:

  1. Your mom or dad
  2. Your best friend
  3. Your spouse
  4. Anyone you can’t count on to be brutally honest with you
  5. People who aren’t writers

It’s lovely to hear “I really liked it” from your mom, or your friends, after you’ve worked so hard to put all those words together on the page. In fact, you often need that kind of supportive feedback to continue on, because, let’s face it, writing is HARD! So keep those people around, because they’ll be crucial to boosting your spirits after you’ve faced true, brutal critique. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we have negative voices. You know the ones who say “It’s just not really my thing,” or who ignore the writing altogether and just make negative personal comments about you. Other people whose opinions aren’t helpful when you’re looking for meaningful critique:

  1. Amazon or Goodreads reviews (especially one-star and five-star reviews)
  2. People who don’t read in the genre you’re writing in
  3. Most anyone in the comments section anywhere

Usually these kinds of “criticism” are vague and not helpful to improving your work. The more you read, the further into the pit of despair you’ll sink, because they’re not offering you any way out. It’s best to avoid that kind of negativity as well.

People who ARE qualified to give you actual critique on your writing:

  1. Other writers (also called critique partners), preferably in your genre
  2. Beta readers (also preferably in your genre)
  3. Professional independent editors
  4. Agents
  5. Publishing professionals

These people have developed the expertise necessary to be able to provide you with helpful critique that can make your work stronger. Sometimes they’ll have positive remarks, and that’s fabulous. But often they’ll have specific feedback that, if you’re ready and able to hear it, will help you improve your work.

So what is this “critique” I speak of? Merriam Webster defines it as an act of criticizing, especially a careful judgment or judicious evaluation. Critique involves taking what you’ve written and comparing it with other works already published, and then drawing conclusions about whether it measures up, exceeds, or falls short of that body of work already in existence. This process can be long and involved (when you give your WIP to your critique partners and ask for feedback), or it can happen in an instant (when you pitch your story to an agent at SFWC’s Speed Dating). 

Hearing that something you’ve been working on for years doesn’t measure up yet can be tough. This is your “book baby” after all. How dare someone tell you it’s not good enough? It can be tempting to lash out or reject the opinion that only moments before you’d been so eager to receive. If you’re one of those people who finds yourself resistant or, let’s be real, combative when it comes to receiving criticism or rejection, you might need to ask yourself if you’re ready to be shopping that manuscript around yet.

Building up the muscle of critique acceptance takes time and practice. I recommend you don’t start with the highest stakes (i.e. pitching to your favorite agent at a conference). Before you set yourself up for soul-crushing rejection, find some critique partners, either online or in person, and share your work with them. Practice giving yourself space to feel emotions around criticism and seeing how that criticism does not cause the world to end or your career as a writer to go up in flames. Once you’ve started to anticipate your emotions around criticism, practice sorting through the critique offered to find what’s helpful in improving the critiqued piece specifically or your writing practice in general. And each time you can do this, you take a step closer to realizing your publishing dreams.

Having the emotional awareness to discern when you’re ready for critique, and who is qualified to give that critique is one key to your success as a writer. And what you do with that critique matters as well. Not every piece of criticism is going to be applicable to you. But when you can find what criticism rings true for your manuscript, you can use it to make your writing even stronger.

Looking for critique partners or just more writing community? Check out the SFWC Discord server!

Elisabeth Kauffman is the Marketing Director for the San Francisco Writers Conference, as well as an independent editor, an author, and an artist. She edits fiction and memoir for independent clients as well as for publishing companies, and coaches writers to find their voices and connect to the magic in their creative lives. Using creative writing exercises along with tarot, visualization, and more tactile forms of art, she encourages her clients to take risks and tell stories that matter. She offers workshops for local writing groups on topics such as using tarot in your drafting and revising process, and tapping your creative potential through visual arts. In 2020, she successfully funded a Kickstarter to independently publish her tarot for writers, Lunaria Tarot, which became available in 2021.

Elisabeth grew up reading Mary Stewart, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the like. She loves creative, imaginative storytelling, and regularly obsesses over board games, Doctor Who, and The Great British Baking Show. Learn more about her at www.writingrefinery.com or email her at [email protected].

The San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change conference are both produced by the San Francisco Writers Conference & San Francisco Writers Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The SFWC Director is Laurie McLean.  For registration help, contact Richard Santos at registrations@sfwriters.org. For SFWC sponsorship opportunities, contact Carla King at Carla@carlaking.com
The SFWC website is: www.SFWriters.org

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Name: Elisabeth Kauffman
Title: Director of Marketing
Group: San Francisco Writers Conference
Dateline: Oakley, CA United States
Direct Phone: 13103676215
Cell Phone: 13103676215
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