Taking Criticism: A Writer's Guide

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Taking criticism is a breeze — if you know how to do it right. As a writer, sometimes it seems like everyone’s a critic. Well, they are. Each and every set of eyeballs that reads your work belongs to a human being with his or her own set of likes and dislikes. Whether they judge your story a flash of brilliance or a pile of dung, they’re still expressing a simple opinion.

Do you get angry if your dinner partner hates broccoli, even if it’s the broccoli you slaved over? No, because we all accept that everyone’s entitled to particular and singular tastes in food. We’re okay with it. But when it comes to our writing, we often forget that what we serve up to the public is just another morsel in the vast smorgasbord of literary options they have.

Like a predilection for a certain type of food, some readers’ critiques are expressing an opinion on your story. It either resonates with, or repulses, them for entirely personal reasons. Some people like epic novels; others prefer short stories. Some like supernatural drama; some prefer historical fiction. The critics that are already in love with the type of story you’re serving up are the ones who will give you true insight. This is the stuff of miracles — the exact thing you need to propel your work into true mastery. Of course, if you aren’t interested in selling your work to the public, feel free to ignore these bits of judgement. But if you want to craft stories that crawl inside readers’ heads and live comfortably for decades, then you need to listen up.

Taking criticism is part of your job. As I mentioned, you don’t need to take it all. You can ignore the romance reader who doesn’t approve of your dystopian sci-fi novel. She simply isn’t your kind of reader. But if you have a fan of dystopian novels who thinks you can use a bit of help organizing your new universe, you might want to tune in.

I call these readers “validators”. They love your genre. Plus, they love the length of story you’re offering. They just have a few suggestions, but they’re validating what you already know — you’re a pretty darn good writer. They wouldn’t have made it through the entire book if you weren’t. But there were just a few things that didn’t sit well with them. Those things are the key to raising your story to its highest potential. Don’t miss out on their keen insight because your precious ego is feeling stomped upon.

Don’t get me wrong. Even some valid readers can be real toots to deal with. Let’s face it: some people are just mean. If this is what you’re dealing with, you can close the book. No one is required to deal with rude, inconsiderate, or troll-like comments. The criticism you are looking for is, above all, constructive.

Taking Criticism the Right Way

So, good criticism is generated by valid readers, polite, and constructive.

If you’re lucky enough to be the recipient of good criticism, here’s how to respond.

Evaluate: Not every review or critique is going to be entirely useful. Find the elements of the critique that are on target. Remember, you’re being totally objective while considering your own work. If you’ve determined that the reviewer is valid, then by that assumption they aren’t trying to hurt your feelings. They’re helping you.

Make notes: After reading tens or even hundreds of reviews or critiques the information may start to go a bit muzzy. Make sure you keep detailed notes of the things that stand out to you so you can revisit them later.

Rework: Now that you’ve compiled a list of things you’d like to revise, get cracking!

Say thanks: Nothing is rarer and more appreciated than someone who sees the value in criticism. Personally thank, if you’re able, those reviewers that really helped your story take a giant leap forward. If you can do this publicly, all the better. This will encourage other valid reviewers to jump in and help you out.

If it’s bad criticism, here’s how to respond.

Silence: The best approach to a mean-spirited critique or other troll-like behavior is to simply ignore it. If the comments happen on your website or social media and are persistent, feel free to block them. If you feel you must respond, reply with grace. Rise above name-calling and childish behavior.

Above all, remember that taking criticism is an important and integral part of honing your skills as a top-notch writer. Remember, without abrasion to keep its edges razor sharp, a knife becomes dull. A pass through the flames lends strength to the sword. Let the well-meaning evaluation of your audience strengthen your pen in the same way. Then, your writing can become sharper, better, and more powerful than ever.

And who wouldn’t want it any other way?

See you on the next page!

 

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