The fourth post in the Writing IRL series. The other day, I sent a sample of the book I want to publish to an editor, with a query ab...

Writing IRL - Receiving Criticism Like a Champ

The fourth post in the Writing IRL series.

The other day, I sent a sample of the book I want to publish to an editor, with a query about having him edit the whole book. A day or so later, he replied to let me know he'd be happy to work on the book, and that he'd already finished putting notes on the sample. So, positively fizzing with excitement and fear, I opened it up in Word.

I always have to mentally prepare myself for feedback, even when it's from loved ones. It's very important that readers should be able to share their opinions with me without fear of having their heads bitten off when I take the criticism too personally, which I often do; so I try to keep my mouth shut and remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion and I'm not always right. So that's what I did while the splash screen loaded up the document: prepared myself to Take Criticism Well.

But still, I was outraged. You want me to break this long run-on sentence up into smaller sentences?! It was designed to be a run-on sentence! Why do I need an and there? I don't want a fucking and there! Why are you trying to sabotage me by making my writing bland like every other beginner writer's? I'm no beginner! AAARRRGGGHHHH!

Okay, so it wasn't that extreme. I didn't roar at all. And his suggestions were, of course, all good ones. A lot of them are now in the book. But the question is: why do I have to prepare myself to receive criticism? Why do I take it so personally and find it so easy to get offended, when I asked for the feedback in the first place?

How can we get better at receiving criticism?

Well, here are the things that I've been trying.

Take a break

The thing I've found most helpful every time I've been annoyed by feedback I've received is simply to take a step back, and breathe.

In the moment, that hot and close moment of reading words written on a page that tell me I'm shit and everybody hates me, it's easy for me to feel angry or hurt, to want to push it away and refuse to accept it. But what good will that do, in the long run? Once I've shouted abuse at my critic and thrown them out of my house, have I changed their mind? Have I changed the minds of anyone who plans to read my work in future? No.

So I just have to step away, and take a while to think about what they're telling me and whether I would say the same thing if I were reading the story for the first time, and then deal with it once I've calmed down. If I still don't agree once I'm well rested and refreshed, then that's okay - we can agree to disagree, not everyone has the same tastes. But if not, then we're seeing eye to eye, and everybody wins.

Walk a mile in their shoes

That is to say, I try to see it from my critic's point of view. I've been involved in my work - it has taken me hours to write and often days, weeks or months to come up with - so my judgment is clouded. But they have come at it from a fresh angle, completely unaware of what it was and what it meant until they first laid eyes on it.

So, of course they're going to see it in a different way. Of course they're going to have suggestions that I didn't think of, or I don't think would fit. They haven't thought it through like I have, they didn't feel the idea grow in their heads like I did. But that doesn't mean that their opinion about it can't be correct - they might hit on something that never occurred to me, or a plot hole I couldn't see when I was right in the middle of it.

Put simply, I try to talk about my work with my beta readers as if we're discussing the work of some famous author, out of reach and faceless and far away. That way, we're both just readers, and we can say what we like about the writer and what they did with this story, and no one will get offended or feel bad about being honest because the author isn't here, and can't hear us. Then later, when the author returns, he takes what those readers have said and uses it to make his work better. If he agrees.

Thank you very much

Regardless of whether or not I agree with the criticism, I always try to be grateful to receive it. It's not always easy for someone to be critical of someone else's work, so it's important that people who have spent time reading my stories and giving their opinions know that their efforts are appreciated.

The added bonus, of course, is that even if I'm cursing them inside, hating them for hating the novel I poured my heart and soul into, I'm being super classy about it. 'Thank you,' I say, 'for your kind feedback. I'll read it through a few times and then I'll figure out the best way to put it all into my next draft.' Then I go home and cry, and draw a picture of them and set it on fire, and after a while the pain goes away.

Ignore it

And after I've done all of the above, if I still don't agree with what they've said, and if it still doesn't feel right, then I can always ignore it. It was their right to offer an opinion, and it is my right to refuse to listen to it. If I'm being deluded and they were right all along, I'll learn that when no one else likes the story either, and hopefully I'll never make the same mistake again; and if not, then everyone else will love it. Either way, everyone wins.

And that's what you can do with all of this advice, too. Who am I to give advice on this shit? I'm no psychologist, no expert in constructive criticism. I've received all of 12 Amazon reviews for my first book, and I rarely even receive a single comment on my blog posts. What would I know about receiving feedback? What an idiot, let's ignore this whole article together and pretend it never happened.

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