You’ve been DYING to hear back from that critique partner, editor, agent, friend. You stalk your inbox. When the document finally arrives, you break into a sweat. What if they HATED everything? Then you think, naaah. That’s not possible. Your pages are so shiny you’ve gotta wear shades just to read them. So you open your manuscript with confidence only to find the page is bleeding, okay, SPURTING red ink. How do you deal with the mountain of criticism?
Most of us fall into one of these four categories:
THE SELF-DEPRECATING SNIVELER
If you’re this writer, you implode when you receive feedback. You’re paralyzed for days, weeks even, because you’re nothing but a phony anyway–the one who barely calls themselves a “Writer”. You don’t have any talent and now the critique has just proven that. You have a meltdown (possibly in public, though let’s hope not).
THE PROACTIVE SUPERHERO
You ponder the comments for twenty-four seconds and then pull on your revision cape and x-ray grammar mask. You attack your manuscript with force, adapting everything. The critiquer must be absolutely dead on, right? You thank your reader and tell them they’re the smartest person on the planet. Your savior!
THE ANGER-MONGERING INFIDEL
You’re insulted by the comments. WTF does this person know about your research, your characters, your method of madness? What do they even know about writing? Nothing! Not only that, but they don’t even have the experience you do. You tell that ingrate how massively intelligent you are, how stupid they are. You even consider degrading their reputation all over the internet so that others won’t be foolish enough to seek their help. (I doubt anyone will admit to being an anger-mongering infidel, but denial ain’t a river in Egypt.)
You read the feedback and calmly digest it. It flows over you, through you, and the important pieces stick to your subconscious. You digest it for as much time as it takes and make notes on how to fix the issues. Next you attack the draft with newfound wisdom and inspiration. You send thanks to your beta reader and offer something in return. GAME ON.
Recognize yourself in any of these categories? Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you may better be able to shape and reshape the kind of writer you’d like to be. Knowledge is power. So what do you do with that knowledge?
CONSIDER THESE WORDS OF WISDOM
- GROW A THICK SKIN. It doesn’t matter how you process feedback, this is essential in the biz. Period.
- TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Don’t assume you’re inferior and that your critiquer knows everything. It’s your book, your characters, and your style after all. On the flip side, don’t disregard advice entirely just because you think someone doesn’t “get you”. There is ALWAYS something to learn. Always. Even if you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Phillipa Gregory. If nothing else, the feedback sheds light on how the manuscript affects readers.
- EMBRACE YOUR IDIOSYNCRACIES, but aim high! Work toward THE YODA. Ultimately it will make the writing and editing process more enjoyable.
- LET IT MARINATE Give yourself proper digesting time—especially if there’s quite a bit of feedback to work through. Take on one piece at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed. You will get there. You’ll shape your novel into something beautiful, with one word at a time.
- TREAT CRITIQUERS WITH RESPECT. This is the golden rule. Someone has just spent hours of their time, paid or not, on your work. Their goal is to help YOU, the writer, improve both the story and your skills–not make you feel lousy. Don’t lash out, even if the feedback you receive is harsh. Show gratitude for their effort and be professional. You never know who that writer/editor/agent knows. The last thing you want to do is damage your reputation, thus your ability to sell books, because you were a hot head one day. Publishing is a small world, after all.
Tell us how you dealt with criticism and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Heather’s newest release, RODIN’S LOVER.
Heather Webb writes historical novels for Penguin and HarperCollins,which have been translated to three languages and have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan magazine, France magazine, and Reuters News Book Talk. BECOMING JOSEPHINE follows the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the French Revolution, and RODIN’S LOVER releasing Jan 27th, chronicles the passionate and tragic story of Camille Claudel, sculptor, collaborator, and lover to the famed Auguste Rodin. A FALL OF POPPIES releases in 2016. Heather is also a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.