We all hate the critic in our heads. You know the one—talks with a nasal British accent, uses words like “deluded numbskull” and “insufferable incompetent,” and never fails to announce that your latest story is tripe. This critic of ours never seems to have a good word to say and is always running us down. So, naturally, we try to block him out as much as possible. But what if we were to actually give him permission to speak every now and then? What if his grumblings and mumblings had something of benefit to offer us?
Think about it. We’re used to gritting out teeth, shutting out the soul-battering harangues of our infernal internal editor, and writing the best stories we can. Then we send our poor shivering darlings out into the world to face something even worse than our inner critics (cue thunder and scary music duhn-duhn-duh-DUH)—the outer critics of critique partners, agents, editors, and, perhaps worst of all, readers.
How much better would it have been had we listened to our inner critic’s helpful, if admittedly snarky, advice before we submitted ourselves to the censure of the writing world at large? One of the best and easiest ways to harness the inner critic’s laser-like perception of your writing’s weak points is to write yourself a bad review. Why would you want submit yourself to that kind of depressing degradation? Quite simply, because as painful as it may be, acknowledging your faults is the best way to overcome them.
So sit yourself down at your computer, pretend you’ve just read your story for the first time, put on your best nasally British accent, and start writing your review from the perspective of someone who noticed your story’s every single flaw.
- Have fun with it. Since you have to face your faults, you might as well do it with aplomb. Turn up the snob level, write hyperbolically, and just generally give yourself permission to make this onerous assignment as snarky and witty as possible.
- Be instinctive. Your inner story sense knows more about what’s wrong with your writing than your conscious brain does. In your first pass over the story, don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. If something bugs you—even if you’re not quite sure why—write it down.
- Be specific. Once you’ve got your instinctive list of problems out of the way, go back and flesh them out. Where you wrote “weak plot,” dig a little deeper to identify why it’s weak. The more specific you are, the better your chances of understanding how to fix the problem.
- Be thorough. Review the entire plot. Analyze every character. Skim through the manuscript, page by page, to make certain you’re remembering everything that’s wrong with the story. This is where your ruthless side needs to take the lead. Don’t let yourself get away with so much as a single weak chapter ending.
- Analyze objectively. Once you’ve finished your snarky, snobby, nitpicking review, go back over it with an objective eye. Make certain everything you’ve written down really is a problem—and not just an overreaction from that part of you that wants to believe nothing you write is any good. Depending on how hard you usually are on yourself and how objective you are about your failings, you may want to take a couple days to recover before looking over the list.
- Create a plan of action. Finally, and most importantly, decide what you’re going to do to fix all these problems. If your critic’s disparagements were legion, try dividing them into categories: plot, characters, pacing, etc. Then make a chronological list if everything that needs fixing—and what you can do to improve them.
Writing a bad review can be rough business. But don’t let it dampen your self-esteem. Use it as a building block to face your writing weaknesses and rise above your mistakes. Then, after you’ve finished your rewrite, give a try to writing the “perfect” review.
K.M. Weiland is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.