writing

How to take criticism

I’ve been told a couple of times, from different editors and beta readers, etc, that I’m good at taking criticism. I want to tell you right off the bat that it was Not Always So.

At one point I got so hyped up about a certain piece of work, so convinced it was Perfect and would Change the World, that when it didn’t win a National competition I was devastated. That’s right, win. I didn’t care about the achievement of just getting it done, and entered. I expected to win. I had built this thing up in my head so much that one little set back really hurt me. I thought I’d never write again. I had months of over the top despair (granted, some other things were going on in my life but still). 

I took a long break from writing. I nursed my hurt and told myself I’d never be good enough. It sucked, it sucked like nothing else. 

But then, as I sorted out my life, and I found some joy, I found inspiration again and I began to write again, too. I started out with short stories and then I attempted a couple of ill-thought-through novels which I’ve abandoned, then I got to work on the old one. The one which had failed in the National competition. I gave it another edit and I sent it in for a manuscript assessment competition, which I won a place in. It’s been edited a few more times, and I’ve had positive and negative feedback on it. Feedback which hasn’t gutted me, or convinced me I’m hopeless. 

A couple of months ago I self published that book (without the help of a professional editor, mistake mistake). I’m currently reading it as a proof paperback and writing all over it, all the things which need to be updated. I feel shame that I let it out into the world, but overall I’m proud of the achievement I made getting it out there. 

I’ve learned a few things about taking feedback and criticism, and having learned these things, I want to share them. Its’ all about how you frame the feedback. Here’s my tips: 

Think of it as a favour – no one has to give you feedback on your work. In fact, in my experience, very few people will give you useful feedback. So if you get feedback that is technical, that points out that you use dialogue tags wrong, or that your character has been inconsistent, or that you’e contradicted yourself later on, that’s great and valuable stuff! (all real examples). The fact is, you hadn’t already noticed these things yourself, and now some awesome person has given you the feedback. Think of it as a generous favour they’ve done for you, and be thankful.

It’s not personal – when someone critiques your work, when someone finds an error, they’re not insulting you. They’re not telling you you’re a bad person, or a bad writer at all! They’re giving you the opportunity to improve. If you feel hurt by the feedback, take a step back. Move away from the manuscript for a day or three and let yourself sit with it. Then you go back in and look at the criticism again. 

Trust – maybe I should’ve put this one up at the top. But basically, trust the person you are getting feedback from. Don’t give it to someone whose taste doesn’t match yours. Ask for feedback people who are better at writing than you, people who know their shit. Then you can trust that they know something when they give you advice.

You don’t have to listen – just because someone says you should change something doesn’t mean its true. You can disagree with the feedback given. You can ignore it. You can listen, judge if it’s worth it and use it or not. It’s your choice.

Consider if it would improve your work – even if you don’t agree right away, stepping back and looking at feedback objectively is important. A little distance from your words is important, because maybe what they’re saying would make your sentences and your story stronger.

Read and Learn – always be learning. There’s a thousand writing blogs, podcasts, videos, courses and conventions that you can take advantage of. The more you learn, the more you improve your craft. The more you learn, the more you can write without making so many mistakes. There’ll always be mistakes, but you don’t have to make the same ones over and over. Getting third party feedback on your writing can highlight these mistakes for you. 

So… those are my things I’ve learned about taking feedback, comments and criticism. Do you have anything else to add? Comment and let me know your thoughts on feedback.