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The Writer's Game Plan for Dealing With Constructive Criticism

FEATURED IMAGE New York Book Editors 12 21 2020 The

Criticism hurts. But when you’re a writer who’s willing to share their art with others, there's no way around it.

Art requires honesty. Honesty requires vulnerability.

Sharing your story is a lot like sharing your heart with others. And those others are hyenas.

You need courage to walk this journey, writer. The life of a writer is non-stop criticism from every angle:

You criticize yourself (when doing self-edits).

You pay others to criticize you (when submitting for a professional edit).

You get criticized for free (when your book is reviewed by the masses).

Your loved ones criticize you. So do your beta readers. And your agent. And the random reviewer on Amazon who says that their 9-year-old niece can write better than you.

I wish I could sugar-coat this, but criticism never gets easier. However, getting criticized is crucial for development as a writer. It’s a necessary hardship if you want to evolve into the best writer you can be. It also helps to see your story from your readers’ eyes. So, while criticism doesn’t get easier, you can get better at managing it.

In this post, we’ll discuss the best ways to deal with criticism.

Go Through the Grief

Deal With Constructive Criticism as a Writer

Criticism is like a punch to the gut. Even if you’ve asked someone for their feedback, you don’t really want them to come back with something negative. You’re secretly hoping that they’ll celebrate your story as the best thing they ever read.

But when they come back with this response: “I liked it, but…” That’s a gut punch. You get that sinking feeling. You’re instantly humbled. You know you’ve got work to do.

When confronted by criticism, you cycle through five stages (of grief):

  1. Denial - This is our defense mechanism. We immediately reject negative feedback because we believe our story is good as is, or else we wouldn’t have shared it.
  2. Anger - We start to attack that other person because it’s easier to lash out than it is to consider the truth in the criticism.
  3. Bargaining - We look for ways to respond to the criticism without losing our dignity.
  4. Depression - We start to feel bad about ourselves and our creative abilities.
  5. Acceptance - We accept what was given and move forward.

Criticism is a difficult process, so give yourself the space to grieve. It really is tough.

Don't Take it Personally

Take a deep breath and realize that what’s said is a critique on your writing, not your value as a person. And if they’re criticizing you personally, don’t listen because there’s no person who can determine your worth.

While you are a writer, you are not your writing and your writing is not you. So, view criticism as a subjective evaluation of your work.

Let It Rest

After someone gives you feedback on your writing, give it a chance to rest before you act. If they’ve written down their feedback, close the file and then return to it in a day or so when you’ve had a chance to cycle through your initial, visceral reaction to the feedback. Then, re-read the feedback with a cooler head. The feedback won’t be as shocking, I promise.

(If the feedback wasn’t written down, jot down a note on their feedback so that you can reconsider it at a later time.)

Remember that you’ll go through several stages of grief when confronted with feedback. By giving feedback a chance to rest, you have the chance to disarm your defensive mode.

Avoid Reading Book Reviews

Don’t read your book reviews. It sounds like crazy advice, right? And also impossible to follow. But here’s the thing: Book reviews are not constructive criticism. Nine times out of 10, the book review is written by a reader for fellow readers. Each book review is an opinion designed to convince someone to read your book or discourage them away from it. It’s not designed to improve your work.

And if you’re scouring the reviews of your book for validation as a writer, you probably won’t find it. That’s not the purpose of book reviews.

Instead of reading reviews, focus on making your manuscript the best possible version. Then, either people like it or hate it, but there’s nothing you can do to change it.

Remember that there are two types of criticism.

The first type of criticism is what you receive before publishing and is actionable. You can directly incorporate this feedback to improve your narrative.

The second type of criticism is what you receive after publishing and it’s not for you, it’s for your audience. You can certainly try to use this criticism (if you prefer) to improve your future writing, but that’s difficult to do because such reviews are focused on a specific story and moment in time. By the time your next story is published, you’ll have evolved as a writer. This is why reading reviews isn’t beneficial for writers.

Decide to Accept or Reject the Criticism

You aren’t obligated to accept every bit of feedback. You’re always in control of what happens in your manuscript.

Always judge the feedback. If you agree with it, then accept it and act on it. If you disagree with the feedback, ask yourself why. Are you being defensive in the face of solid advice? Or do you genuinely disagree with the feedback from an artistic perspective?

Also, consider the source of the feedback. Some feedback weighs more than others. The advice of family members may not weigh the same as the advice of a professional editor whose sole goal is to strengthen your narrative.

But no matter who’s giving you feedback, remember that only you can decide the direction of your story because it’s your story.

Pay Attention to Repeated Criticism

If you get the same feedback from various readers, pay attention. They aren’t wrong. While it may not be what you want to hear, repeated criticism points to a clear problem in your story. Make a plan to act on this criticism so that your future readers won’t encounter the same road bumps.

Look at the Big Picture

Always look at feedback in light of the big picture. If sharing an early or partial draft, your reader may not be privy to the whole story. Only you know where you’d like for your story to end up. So, if the feedback doesn’t align with your ideals, don’t incorporate it.

Kill Your Darlings

Take a critical look at your writing, too. What constructive criticism can you give yourself?

Can you kill a character off? Can you rearrange your opening? Can you tighten the pace? Can you get rid of any adverbs?

There are always things you can do to improve your writing, but you must give yourself permission to be critical. That requires taking a step back from your writing. You must shift from writer to analyst, and you should do this often. Otherwise, you’ll present work that you haven’t appraised and improved.

Avoid Tearing Yourself Down

Deal With Constructive Criticism as a Writer

On the other hand, don’t allow yourself to be overly critical of your work. Write the story. Revise the story. And then hand it over to others who can see what you’ve missed.

Remember that self-criticism is a common response to literary criticism. But don’t dwell on negativity.

Once again, remember that the critique is on your work, not yourself. It’s also not a criticism of your potential as a writer. Don’t let feedback shake your confidence in yourself. Look at all feedback as an opportunity for you to either dig your heels into what you believe or level up your skills.

Partner With Your Editor

Your editor is not your enemy. They want what you want: the best story possible. If you give them permission, your editor will give you actionable feedback on how to improve your story.

Getting critiqued by a professional editor is the best thing you can do for your manuscript before soliciting a literary agent or self-publishing. Here's why:

Think of your editor as your storytelling partner. While you’re the creative who comes up with a compelling story, your editor plays a crucial role in helping you shape up your manuscript. Not only do they share with you the perspective of your reader, but your editor also gives you a detailed plan for how to write the story that you want to tell.

Getting critiqued by a professional editor is the best thing you can do for your manuscript before soliciting a literary agent or self-publishing.

Here are 5 tips on how to deal with feedback from a professional editor:

  1. Remember that you asked for it - You paid for the critique, and they’re giving you your money’s worth. All writing can be improved. Period.
  2. Read through the critique before responding - Take your time to read the critique first. Don’t reply. Let it rest. Then read through it again.
  3. Ask for clarification - If you don’t understand certain criticism, ask the editor to clarify what they meant. Don’t jump to conclusions.
  4. Decide which changes to reject - You’re not obligated to accept any changes, but carefully consider each rejection. Don’t let your ego take over.
  5. Tackle the easy stuff first - Correct typos and grammatical errors, if any, and then progressively revise your manuscript from the easiest changes to the most complicated.

Click here to learn more about our editing services.

Final Thoughts

There's not a writer alive who hasn't had to deal with criticism. It goes along with the package. While criticism can be painful, it’s also necessary for your evolution as a writer, and that of your manuscript.

Use the above tips to improve the way you handle criticism.

Before you go, check out these related posts:

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