Notes on Taking Criticism in Stride & Gleaning What’s Useful
Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of questions and requests to talk about the rejection and criticism. As a writer, you’re bound to come up against it eventually. Whether you’re showing your stories to your next door neighbor or sending it off to the editor of your favorite magazine, you’re going to eventually come face to face with someone else’s thoughts about your work.
That can be a frightening thing. Your writing might be personal or share some very intimate details about your life. It can be hard to hear that it’s is less than perfect. For that reason alone, I’ve always chosen to adopt the mindset that “nothing’s perfect.” There’s always room for improvement. Anything I write can be made better.
Notes on giving and getting criticism.
Everyone’s a critic. But there’s a big difference between someone who insults your writing and someone who provides helpful constructive criticism.
Constructive criticism comes from actively engaging with the work. There are no sweeping generalizations – or at least if there are, they should be thoughtfully backed up with instances in the text.
Constructive criticism when done right should be a mix of positives and negative thoughts. The positive notes are not just polite, but should also be noted for recognizing where the story is most effective and interesting. I always say for revision, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The positive notes in constructive criticism are meant to help you sort the good from the bad.
The last note I want to end on is never write something in criticism you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Most constructive criticism I get, whether it be from friends or mentors, comes in the form of written word and tone can be difficult to gauge. You can give negative feedback and tips for improvement without attacking the writer or their writing. Be thoughtful with your words and be specific. If there was a scene that you don’t think is really working, let them know that, but also try to figure out what specific part of that scene felt off to you. If you are giving someone feedback, make sure that it is the kind of feedback you would appreciate receiving yourself.
I got a bad critique. Am I a bad writer?
Uh, NO! When you put your work out there enough and meet enough people, you’re bound to come across someone who doesn’t like your writing. Guess what? It’s just ONE opinion.
Writing is an art and sometimes you’ll meet people who just “don’t get it.” You might meet people who think your work is boring, or weird, or just straight up bad. Those are opinions.
Real talk: My favorite book is Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. A lot of readers might pick up that book, see the length of that first sentence and say not today! And that happens. It’s their loss. But it’s just an opinion. I read the first chapter, couldn’t put it down, and have read it half a dozen times since. Even the best books are not for everyone.
Finding a critique partner.
There are so many ways to find a critique partner. I recommend seeking out other writers because you can critique each other’s work and you’re more likely to understand each other’s goals. Even if you are talking with another writer about your work, it can take a little while to find someone who understands your writing style and influences. Talk with possible critique partners about what they like to read. That’s usually a good litmus test – if you like the same kind of books, it’s more likely that you’ll be writing the same kinds of stories.