Steff Higgins writes books for kids and makes movies. Sometimes the books play out as movies in their head and that’s when they really love writing. Steff’s writing has been selected for a #QueerKidlit mentorship and gotten them to the finalist round for a We Need Diverse Books mentorship. Steff serves on the board of the MetroWest Writer’s Guild. You can find more information at Steff Higgins.com
“You need thick skin to have your work critiqued.”
– Almost Everyone
Besides conjuring a recurring childhood dream where my family turned into Lizard People—yup, like you’re thinking: a green person-sized bipedal lizard who sounds like your mom—this comment never sat well with me.
Maybe it’s me. I might have skin that instead of being lizard thick is more like vinyl. Dented easily, bounces back, but medium-hard pressure from a sharp object will slice into it allowing the fluffy stuffing to poke out. It doesn’t stop me from writing, but it does stop me from talking, sharing, and being vulnerable in critique groups or workshops.
The thickness of your skin aside, it’s true that asking for feedback from others requires a writer to be in a state of readiness. Not the horned toad kind of ready – blood spurting is discouraged in most writing spaces – but a ready that has the writer open to receiving feedback. And if your goal is to traditionally or independently publish your story, make your story better, or become a better writer – getting your work critiqued and collecting feedback is necessary.
In her book Bad Choices Make Good Stories: Conversations About Writing, author and instructor Erin Dionne says:
“Sitting and absorbing a free-for-all of comments is actually ineffective and can be damaging. Writing requires feedback, criticism, and changes. It’s how our stories get better and how we grow as writers. It’s part of being a professional writer: Agents, editors, and readers will offer their advice and suggestions to make your work better. This is part of what we do.
But it can also be incredibly damaging if done incorrectly. Receiving—and giving—critique is a skill that needs to be consciously worked on and developed as we go through our writing journey.”
Ok, but what if you disagree with the first part of what Erin says? You’re made of the strong stuff and your stuffing never shows. You want people to throw everything they’ve got at you, no need to think this hard about it. You can hear, sift through, and incorporate feedback without issue. That’s great. But because the number of people required to workshop a piece of writing is greater than one, you also need to think about how you critique others’ work.
As I participated in and learned more about critique, I discovered the feedback I gave was more about the ways a writer could fix their story. The “fixes,” of course, came from my own writing experience, cultural background, and the kinds of stories I liked. I gave advice and opinions liberally and I made sure if it came to mind, I said it. When it came to other people’s stories, I had a lot to say and I’m not sure it was helpful.
That’s why I started the MetroWest Writer’s Guild Workshop for Premium Members. I wanted to get better at both giving and receiving critique. In the workshop, we learn to listen actively, read critically, and ask for the feedback we need on a piece of writing. Repeatedly participating on both sides of the critique table makes us better writers. We are also building a writing community that intentionally practices critique and that helps everyone in the Guild.
The Guild offers many tools for your writing: classes to learn every part of craft, posts on all things writing-related, supportive cohort groups, and more. When you’re ready to elevate your writing craft, don’t overlook critique. Lizard skin isn’t necessary to become a better writer, but practicing giving and receiving critique is.