Every experienced writer knows that taking criticism is a big part of being a professional writer. You need to have a strong backbone in order to learn and develop. In theory, I think every writer—whether you are just beginning to write your first book or have been writing for twenty years—would agree that we always want to be learning and becoming better writers.
However, it’s one thing to make a statement in theory and a very different thing to apply it in reality. Most writers are very bad at taking criticism. And trust me: I am not pointing fingers because even I have issues with receiving and analyzing criticism.
So, how do you go about learning the art of taking criticism? Well, here are a few tips that have worked for me, and may work for you as well.
I know, I know. This is your baby that you’ve given birth to and were forced to stay up many nights to nurture. As a writer, I know better than anyone that books are often very close to our hearts. So when someone critiques something you care so dearly about, it can be a bit like tearing out your heart and stumping on it several times. I would not recommend putting that to the test, though…pretty painful.
Thus, the first tip I have to give is: distance yourself from your own story. Sometimes you get so close that you can’t see it as it truly is. Instead, you see the vision you have of it in your head, which may or may not be how others perceive it on the page.
Always be willing to listen. Distance yourself emotionally from the criticism. One way to achieve this is by having an hour rule (or whatever time works for you). What I mean by this is not reacting to criticism for at least an hour.
For example, let’s say you posted your story online and someone gives you a critical comment about your story. DO NOT ANSWER IMMEDIETELY! Because, odds are, you will be reacting emotionally and not always rationally. Instead, walk away from your computer. Do something that gets your mind off of it. Then come back when you are calmer and read through the review again.
This way, you are distancing yourself from any emotional protectiveness you have over your story. This will enable you to absorb the comments better.
Know When to Listen
Maybe you aren’t the type of person that gets indignant by any criticism you get. Maybe, instead, you’re like me and are the opposite. For me, when I get a critique on, say, a character, I scrap the character and say my story is horrible and worthless.
This is where knowing what criticism you should listen to comes in. That is, the quality and source of the critique. For example, if you get a review for your story bashing everything and saying nothing good, odds are that that person is not trying to help you and probably had a very bad day.
Critique is something that should be thought over, but not necessarily implemented. This is another person’s opinion. Now, if you are getting the same critique from multiple people, then you should take it more seriously. You always want to see your book from outside yourself—that’s why I always recommend letting other people read it.
Part of the skill of learning how to take criticism is being able to analyze it as something you should seriously consider, or something you shouldn’t concern yourself about.
It’s All In the Details
The biggest part of taking criticism is understanding what each individual criticism means. And, as you have probably found out in your own life, miscommunications very easily happen. Often many critiques are broad and confusing. For example, someone says they don’t like one of your characters. That is hardly helpful, isn’t it? Are they saying you should completely get rid of that character? Or does a certain action by that character not make sense with the rest of their personality?
Begin a dialogue with whoever critiques your piece, especially if it is clear they are not simply bashing your work and want to help make it better. Get to know what their perspective is on topics. What they value. If they are someone who loves first-person shooters and doesn’t get romance, odds are they will probably critique your romantic scene as being unnecessary and boring.
Get to the heart of why a person gives a certain critique. If people give you broad responses (like there are issues with your plot), get into the details (like what exactly are the issues of your plot).
Let me know what your tricks are for taking criticism (also how many times did I use the world ‘criticism’ or ‘critique’ in this essay?). And, since we’re on the topic, do you guys think I should do a blog post on the opposite: that is, how to give criticism/reviews. Let me know what your thoughts are, and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,