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Guest Blog: How Thick Is Your Skin? by Sandy Wills

Sandy WillsI’ve been critting a ton of stories recently. A lot of the crits have been for people I’ve never read before, and that’s always scary — both for me and for the author. The author is putting their manuscript in my hands, and I’m doing my best to help them improve their work.

The key word in that last sentence is help. That’s my intention with everything I read, but I’m the type of critter who likes to pour my thoughts out onto the page. When I receive a crit, I always find it helpful to learn what a reader is thinking when they get to certain points in the manuscript. That helps me decide if I accomplished what I intended to with a certain scene or snippet of dialogue. So in my mind, more comments = better crit.

But it occurred to me (yeah, like just now occurred to me) that others might not feel the same way, and I have this horrible worry that maybe I say too much. I always preface my remarks with things like This is just my opinion and These are only suggestions of things to think about, but sometimes, the critted manuscripts end up having solid comments down the margin of the first few pages. I’m feeling kind of dense because it’s taken me so long to realize this might be intimidating to some people.

When it comes to crits, my skin is like iron (*knocks on wood* in case I just jinxed myself). You can tell me you despised my book, my heroine is too stupid to live, the hero is boring, the dialogue is cheesy, etc. I’m able to view your comments through a lens. It doesn’t hurt me; it gives me things to think about. Would it be nice if you pointed out what you liked about my book, too? Sure. And that would make your crit overall more helpful to me, but it’s definitely not a requirement. I’m totally cool with harsh crits.

A part of me — the nerdy part which is obsessed with statistics — wonders how many writers out there have skin as thick as mine. For example, what would be the breakdown if we classified ourselves into the following categories regarding the type of feedback we want:

  1. thin – Just tell me the good stuff. I need all the encouragement I can get.
  2. thinnish – Tell me mostly good stuff. I need to know what IS working.
  3. normal – I need an equal balance of the good and the bad.
  4. thickish – I want to know what’s not working, but scatter in some encouragement.
  5. thick – Nothing you can say will hurt me. Tell me EVERYTHING that’s wrong.

I’m guessing most people here would say #4 — thickish. That’s the skin thickness my crits are intended for, but I’m wondering if I should move towards #3 and crit with an equal amount of good and bad (I really hate the term “bad”) stuff, especially if the writer is just starting out. The last thing I want to do is discourage people from writing, but I don’t like the idea of telling them only the good stuff either. I don’t feel like that’s helping them, and really, isn’t the goal of critiquing to be helpful?

So you tell me: how thick is your skin? In other words, what type of feedback do you like in the crits you receive? What about in the crits you give? And does that level of feedback change if you’re critting for someone who’s relatively new to writing?

Sandy Wills is an urban fantasy author represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe. When she’s not writing or reading romance novels, she can be found masquerading as a librarian, screaming at a rock concert, or kicking butt in the latest board games. She blogs on Livejournal and is a Twitter-addict.

8 comments to “Guest Blog: How Thick Is Your Skin? by Sandy Wills”

  1. TinaChristopher
    · August 11th, 2010 at 3:58 am · Link

    I have to say that getting back a critique where the whole margin is filled with comments can be a little intimidating;). However, I agree with you on more comments=better critique. You need to know the ‘bad’stuff, otherwise the book won’t get better.

    You read my stuff when it was pretty fresh off the press and I was a total newbie. Your comments were a great mixture of encouragement and pointing out areas that needed improvement.

    I’m probably around 4. I’m very open to comments, but it helps if there is the odd good point in there;).

  2. Jon Gibbs
    · August 11th, 2010 at 6:54 am · Link

    I’ve a pretty thick skin. the only time a critique annoys me (and that goes for critiquing other folks work too) is when the person giving it seems to be enjoying the precess too much.

  3. Sandy Williams
    · August 11th, 2010 at 7:11 am · Link

    @Tina Yeah, see? I’m a total dweeb and didn’t realize how intimidating that could be.

    I pointed out good stuff, too, right? That was a while back, so I’m not sure if I did. I think I’m much better at giving crits now, tho! I don’t get tunnel vision and point out only bad stuff (or “things to think about”) these days.

  4. Sandy Williams
    · August 11th, 2010 at 11:45 am · Link

    @Jon Uh-oh. I LOVE giving critiques. I mean, not in the sense that I enjoy ripping things apart, but if I’m actually helping the writer? Yeah. Totally love it. And to be honest, I think most of the things I’ve learned about writing in the last few years have been from critting other people’s stuff.

    @Nadia Usually it’s just the first few pages that are totally marked up when I crit. Well, not usually. More like occassionally. I guess that’s when I have the most questions/thoughts. Plus, I try not to repeat the same thing over and over again.

  5. Nadia Lee
    · August 11th, 2010 at 8:17 am · Link

    I’ve sent back crits with every margin filled with notes and comments, and I’ve received ones like that too. I try to point out something positive, esp. if I think I was too critical…. :oops:

  6. David Bridger
    · August 11th, 2010 at 6:58 pm · Link

    I’m a 5(a): Nothing you can say will hurt me. Tell me EVERYTHING that’s wrong – but also tell me what works really well.

    Which is what you do, actually. Which is why you and I make great crit partners. :D

  7. Sandy Williams
    · August 11th, 2010 at 10:44 pm · Link


    *high fives*

  8. Renmiu
    · August 15th, 2010 at 11:10 pm · Link

    Sandy its best to ignore the negative and focus on the positive. Remember you are not hurting anyone with your words. You are a writer and if a few doesn’t like your work, then they don’t have to read it.


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