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Attack of the Killer Critique
(or Going Down in Flames)
by Tina Morgan

So you finally braved the world of the workshop and you have received your first critiques. Some have been helpful and polite, others so short they are useless and last, those that are all out attacks.

You enthusiastically thank the first group, and politely thank the second, but how do you handle the third? Being courteous to someone who has just trashed your hard work may seem impossible but it's not.

First, no matter how much you like your characters, they are just characters and not real people. You may have poured your heart into the story but it is a story and the window to your soul can be shut.

Not every reader is going to enjoy your style of writing. Think about it. You have your own favorite authors. Then there are those writers that you wonder how they ever got published in the first place. It is impossible to please everyone, so don't even try. What matters is if you enjoy what you are writing.

There is also the consideration that the person who just flamed you may have had a bad experience themselves. This does not justify their abusing an innocent bystander, but I can assure you it does happen.

Look for a redeeming quality to the offensive critique. How? In a recent critique I received, the reader trashed my story. I had never criticized any of her work so the attack was unprovoked. As I read her critique, I was very angry. Who was this person and why was she attacking me? I did not deserve such abuse.

How does the old saying go? Life isn't fair (and neither are workshops).

After muttering (okay, yelling) several abusive comments at my computer screen, I walked away. For several hours. When I came back and read the critique again, I found one redeeming quality. I had not set up my antagonist well enough. More than one reader felt my antagonist was contradictory to my setting. A very serious flaw.

The first reader to point this out (albeit far more politely) I ignored. By the time I received more critiques, I realized the 'flamer' had a point. I re-read the story and found several places to improve my villain.

So now you have gotten that killer critique and you are having a hard time walking away. What do you do while you are trying to bite back all those scathing retorts? Here are a few suggestions.

1 - Write a reply to the offender. Be as nasty as you want. Rip them to shreds. The catch? DO NOT SEND IT. You can only send it after you have removed all the rude parts. You may be left with a simple 'thank you' but that is enough. You don't want to be kicked out of the workshop for childish name calling.

2 - If you can find a copy of the 'flamer's' work, write a blistering critique of your own. Again, DO NOT send it. One person is not worth losing the friendships you might make in the workshop.

3 - If you can't think of words severe enough to describe the 'flamer' in your own mind, use their name as a curse word. Sound silly? Try it, you might find it strangely therapeutic.

4 - Write the offender into your next story and make them die a horrid death, or make them live in constant pain. Make sure you change the name to avoid a lawsuit.

5 - Literally flame them by burning them in effigy. Okay, so you might want to restrain yourself to a paper doll and a candle. Otherwise you might set off the sprinklers in your building or cause serious financial damage to your home. (This is purely tongue in cheek.)

Back to the serious recommendations. Workshops can provide useful insight into your work. Just remember to wear your rhino hide and close that storm window to your soul.

A fellow writer suggests that you keep that imaginary squeegee handy. You may have a lot of dirt thrown at you but it washes off. Bask in the good critiques, ignore the useless ones and keep a sense of humor for the 'flamers'.

Most of all, keep in mind that the purpose of joining a workshop is to improve your writing skills. You can't do that if all you receive are pats on the back and empty praise. If no one ever tells you what you are doing wrong, then you will never know what you need to fix.

Good luck with all your writing endeavors and remember to ENJOY yourself.

Copyright 2001 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved.


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