You have a story (or novel), and you’re ready for others to take a look at it. But taking feedback is a learned skill, like any other.
In the past, I didn’t take criticism… any criticism!… well. I was one of those people who’d say I was fine while fighting back tears and gnashing my teeth. I was supposed to be perfect, you see, which meant that every word that came from my pen was also perfect. Any criticism, no matter how well-intended, was an attack on me.
You can roll your eyes at young me. I frequently do.
When I first started thinking about publication, it was only after I’d gotten a number of form rejections that I figured out I needed to get critiqued first. When I found my first online critique group, it was a humbling experience. In this online critique group, we were supposed to give feedback about the feedback, and luckily for me, I read some of that feedback and realized that if I wasn’t careful, I could be the person ranting about how no one understood me and basically spend all my time rebutting criticism.
Most of those people were not great writers.
I didn’t want to be that person.
So, I started taking time out to really think about the criticism before I responded to it. After a few times where people gave me critiques that basically amounted to, “It was great!” I decided that those critiques were even wore than the critical kind. So I developed a policy of thanking people for any criticism, no matter if it was actually helpful or not.
Here’s what helps me deal with feedback.
Step away from the criticism.
I sometimes need a little time to think about the criticism before I can do it justice. In the moment, it can be hard to be objective. After a little while, it gets easier to assess what to keep and what to discard.
Remember, they’re just opinions.
When I first started getting critiqued, one person would say, “More setting!” so I’d add more. then the next person would say, “Less setting!” so I’d take it out. The point is that you shouldn’t make changes based on every single critique someone offers. In many cases, it’s a matter of taste. If I had to critique anything by JRR Tolkien or Stephen King, I’d cut wide swaths with a red pen. Evaluate the critiques to see what resonates and what doesn’t, then edit based on that.
Don’t argue about what your intention was.
I’ve seen this happen in groups more than once. Someone offers a critique, and then the author defends the reason that passage was written or why it was written that way. The problem is that, if your work is published, you don’t get an opportunity to explain. If someone didn’t get it, then maybe you didn’t succeed in doing what you intended.
Not everyone will like your work.
There are people out there who don’t like Harry Potter. Stephen King threw Carrie in the trash can (back in the days of paper manuscripts) and his wife picked it back out. If someone doesn’t like your work, it’s possible that it’s just not to their taste.
Always say “thank you.”
Critiquing isn’t easy, so when someone makes an effort to help improve your work, thank them, even when you don’t feel like it. Maybe especially when you don’t feel like it.
Identify the strengths of people within your group.
I weight criticism based on what I know about the people in my group. If one person loves romance, then I weight their criticism more heavily in scenes with smooches. If another person is great at actions scenes, they’re the person I listen to when fists start flying.
Look for patterns.
I’ve lost count of the times people have told me to take the preachy message out of my story. I didn’t listen the first couple (dozen) times, but eventually, it got through. If one person says that they don’t like your main character (and you meant for him or her to be likable), maybe it’s the person reading. If most people who read your manuscript don’t like your main character, then it’s probably an issue.
It’s YOUR story.
You wrote the story for a reason. An idea sank its teeth into you, or certain characters wouldn’t stop talking until you put them on paper. People are going to offer lots of different opinions on your story, but don’t lose sight of your original visioin, what made you excited in the first place.
Be quiet and listen.
This is probably one of the most important points in this post. You can’t learn if you’re talking or formulating a defense. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to listen to criticism, no matter how well-meaning, but it’s an essential skill to learn in all parts of life. You can learn something from everyone. Sometimes it’s not what they intended for you to learn, but that doesn’t make the lesson less valuable.
What would you add to this list?
Related posts: 8 Things To Remember When Giving Writing Feedback