– Or Emily and the Criticism Sandwich –

I have problems with criticism, but not in the way that you might immediately think. I fear it because I imagine every worst case scenario, every terrible comment, everything bad about my story, and I beat myself up with it.

I am extremely insecure about my writing, especially when I take risks with it. For example, I have to workshop a piece that I spent an agonizingly long time rewriting (for more info, see my last blog post). I wrote it in third person, something I don’t frequently do, because I felt like I needed to give the reader (and myself) some distance from what my character was going through. I made this decision, mostly because I became disturbed by what I was having to write about.

This was a terrible idea.

I didn’t get specific enough. I didn’t outline relationships enough. It wasn’t good enough. Better than the first draft, but not good enough. So, naturally, I began beating myself up about it. I started geting defensive about the first two forum posts about my story. I was becoming a rage monster over critiques, which is a things I hate in myself and dislike in other writers.

So, I prepared myself by saying “I tried something new. It didn’t work. My peers will suggest ways to fix it.” And I started reading the critiques – most of which started of very nicely. I read through four or five poorly disguised ‘critiques sandwiches.’

Critique sandwiches are what I call peer critiques, because I frequently sandwich the critique between two strong compliments. Like, I found something truly interesting and uniques about your piece; here’s something you could work on; but, over all, I thought it was pretty good here. That is the basic structure of the critique sandwich.

Unfortunately, you have to use this structure, even if the story is not so good. And I can tell when people bulls*** because I do all the time, though I try to be sincere in my compliments as much as possible. I realize that I did not write my story as well as I could have, and that disappoints me. So, when I read critique sandwiches that sound forced, I sort of lose resolve to work on anything ever again.

This story, however, matters too much to me. I have ideas of how to fix it, and I hope that maybe, just maybe, critiques on my piece will lean in the direction of ‘here’s how you can salvage this’ rather than ‘here’s how you can duct-tape this garbage heap and pretend it looks good.’ And I hope that these critique sandwiches are sincere, and not just there because my peers are trying to say nice things about the crap that I feel I handed them.