Since writers are always saying something, we will always receive criticism. Many times, it’s because we asked for feedback. It will come, be it from editors, agents, readers – or for those of us that are unpublished, from critique groups, fiction writing class mates, writer friends, and family. Feedback is necessary and helpful, yet it can be painful. If you hear that comment that drives you to dangle all your writing dreams over the dumpster – I have advice for you. Don’t do it. Back away from the dumpster. Instead of trashing dreams, take heart and take these three suggestions seriously.
1. Think before you defend
Or don’t defend at all. Don’t even speak. When someone tells you they don’t like your character (the character you based off yourself), nod and listen respectfully. When your editor tells you your favorite analogy isn’t working, take a breath. Be grateful. Be kind. No matter if the feedback was vastly positive or completely negative, thank the person for their time and their help. The golden rule works well here.
What you shouldn’t do is rush to explain how you just really like that metaphor and how you think it’s really great and it pulls the whole story together. To be frank, that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not just about you, as the writer. It’s about readers, and a reader just told you they didn’t understand. That means you have a job to do.
2. Remember you are writing to be read
My fiction writing professor constantly gives a spiel on feedback. She’s says something like this: “When someone tells you of something that confused them in a story, you don’t have to listen to their suggestion on how to fix it. You are the writer. How you fix it is up to you. But if your reader is confused, you should fix something.”
If someone tells you that a certain scene or line or subplot just doesn’t make sense, don’t chop off the criticizer’s head. Take a breath and realize who you are writing for. If you honestly want to publish a story but only you can understand it, something is wrong.
3. Take a break
Negative feedback hurts. Instead of getting angry, take a break. A long break. For longer works, leave longer time. When you find that you forget how you worded, say, your favorite sentence of the piece, you know you’ve taken enough time. Time gives emotions time to cool, it allows instincts to appear clearly, and it gives your brain space to refresh. All this is growth towards an objective perspective.
That’s the key – objectivity.
What’s the most painful criticism you’ve received? How did you handle it?