One day, a writer named Goldilocks wandered into the woods and came upon a cottage. When she got inside, she found three critics.
She gave her work to the first one. The first critic loved everything and gushed lots of superlative adjectives to describe it. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” said the first critic. Too Soft, thought Goldilocks.
She gave her work to the next critic. The second critic hated her work and said lots of things that made Goldilocks wish she’d found bears instead. “This is trite and without redeeming literary merit,” the critic said. Too Hard, Goldilocks thought.
Goldilocks gave her work to the last critic. The third critic chuckled at many of the parts that were supposed to be funny, and gave suggestions for improvement in others. “You’re off to a good start,” said the third critic. Goldilocks sighed with relief. Just Right, she thought.
Like Goldilocks, beginning writers especially should be careful to find people to critique their work who are Just Right. Inexperienced writers can be especially sensitive to criticism, and the wrong type can set us back days, months, even years.
Readers who are Too Soft make you feel all squishy inside, but they don’t move your craft forward, and you can never quite trust them anyway. They may be well-meaning – family and friends tend to fit this category – but they’re too worried about breaking your heart.
Readers who are Too Hard are career-killers. A particularly painful incident with one of them can make your hand seize up and stop working. They often have egos much larger than they deserve to, and, like the playground bully, elevate themselves by knocking other people down. Remember, just because a writer is good, famous even, does not mean he makes a good critic.
The trick is to size these critics up before they’ve got their bear paws on your favorite work. If you’re in a class or a group, let someone else go first, and listen to the tenor of the comments. If you’re part of an online group, lurk a little before posting. If all else fails, remember going into the cottage that this critic may not be Just Right – and don’t let a Not Right critic stop you from venturing into the forest ever again.