My stomach is a bit twisted up at this moment. It could be the coffee, or it could be the feedback I just received about something on which I worked very hard. I suspect it’s the latter. This feedback came by way of a very kind and very sound email, and I agree with everything the person said. Yet, still, this slightly sick feeling in my belly.
Critique is always hard. Always.
In life, we don’t often have the opportunity to use that feedback to change the specific situation being analyzed. We can try to do better in the future, but the past is done – we have to leave it there.
Fortunately in writing, we aren’t locked into the same linear pattern. We can go back and revise our work. We can improve it. We can do better with the wisdom of our readers.
The question is – will we?
Often, my first reaction to criticism is to disregard it or defend myself against it. I want to justify the choices I made, even if I didn’t consciously make any choices. My work feels precious, solid, unchangeable. I begin to feel like I am under attack, even if I have asked for feedback. I want to respond, to justify, to rationalize. But I have learned to quell these urges.
In that second reaction, I can see hope. I can see what is valuable in the critique and what is not. I can find my way back to my intention and my voice and weigh what was said against my words . . . I can soften and learn again. In that second moment . . .
So here are five insights I’ve gained from years of receiving critique:
1. Let yourself be frustrated and sad and angry even. Sit at your desk and cry if you want. Go outside and shout. Do whatever you need to do. . . but do it alone or with people who love you unconditionally.
2. Don’t respond to the feedback for at least 24 hours. That first reaction isn’t rational, and it won’t do you any good to respond to the person who critiqued you when you feel upset. After all, that person meant well; you may have, in fact, solicited their feedback. So wait a bit before you respond, if you choose to do so at all beyond a thank you.
3. If you choose to respond, ask questions rather than explaining your intentions. Our beta readers help us out by reading; they are doing us a favor. So when we offer our intentions instead of asking for further clarification on their insights, we are calling their reading into question and suggesting, if not intentionally, that they may be wrong.
4. Honor both the praise and the critique. It’s so easy to focus only on what needs to be improved in a piece that we often overlook the positive feedback we receive. This is to our detriment because often when we do something well, we should consider doing more of it.
5. Stay with your intention. Just because someone critiques something doesn’t mean you need to take that critique. Be true to what you intended while not discounting what they said. Find the balance between incorporating someone else’s wisdom and following your own.
Accepting critique is one of the hardest things in writing (and life). I don’t always do it well, but I’m trying to improve. Any other tips for how to work with critique? I’d love to hear them.