One person I know used to have the problem of believing everything she was told in critiques and not believing in herself at all. If someone told her to change something, she did. After all, they should know. Shouldn’t they?
But that was then.
After a time she asked herself why? When she answered that question the pendulum swung. Now she wonders why she asks for critiques at all because all she does is argue with the people. They also wonder why she asks for their opinion if she has no interest in their advice. She answers because their advice is stupid.
Generally, what I have found is there are two forms of critique and we need to be very careful about distinguishing them because one is helpful and the other is not.
First, is the kind of critique that an editor might do.
If there are basic grammatical mistakes, typos and the like, we appreciate them being pointed out. We are especially grateful when our eye has sped over that same passage a hundred times and never saw the tree for the forest. If there is a place where we are being repetitively redundant, that might be good to know. A friend of mine had six different editors go over his manuscript. (Not on purpose. He changed publishers in mid-stream). When the book went to print, several readers pointed out several things. They were corrected for the second edition.
A continuity critique can be a great help as well. We don’t want the character we killed off on page thirty-seven showing up again on page two hundred and seven. We don’t want our character putting their foot down on an issue only to change their mind a hundred pages later and do or say the opposite without showing some transitional process in the interim pages. A continuity reading can be a great help at times.
But then, second, there are what I call the opinion critiques.
One such critique is the kind that tries to reword our sentences, sometimes paragraphs or whole sections of the work. Most often I have found that such critiques come from people who cannot see past the end of their own nose. They invariably are trying to rework YOUR work into a piece they would write (make it their work, in a sense). They are trying to get you to abandon YOUR style for theirs. To heck with that!
Then there are the critiques that want to change the storyline or characters. They think Hamlet would be better if he lived at the end. They think Hamlet is too morose and should be portrayed as a lively sort. They hit you with the manipulative words: It didn’t attract me. I could not sympathize with your characters. I was disappointed with the ending. Well, I’m sorry, but that leads into the next note:
The truth that no one will admit is reading is purely a subjective enterprise. What one agent/editor/publisher (or critique partner) hates, another may love. It may have more to do with what side of the bed the person got up on than whether the work is good or not. If the reader just got dumped, even brilliance might be thumbs down (and people can always rationalize why). If the person just got engaged and is floating somewhere near space, the lousy work might just see print. Who knows?
The truth is some critiques are helpful. The first kind is worth considering. The second kind is not to be rejected out-of-hand, but carefully thought through. There may be a valid point in there somewhere. But otherwise, recognize the truth about readership. Even professionals: agents, editors, publishers, English professors are subjective, not gospel. That is why I have followed the advice of Ricki Nelson from long ago:
“You can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.”
Now, if a publisher offered a million bucks to make Macbeth likeable, I would think about it. Otherwise…