Monday 27 September 2021

Handling Criticism - The After Process


One thing you learn early on in writing is that people will be critiquing your work. Whether that's reviews, or your critique partner or beta readers, they will always be people who don't like the direction you've gone and the way you've told that particular story. The thing about this is that a lot of the time, you will be asking them to give you criticism, and you need to know how to take it without blowing up and destroying all your relationships and your career full stop.

I'll be the first to admit that there have been times in my career when I've really found it hard to hear that critique. My first instinct is to sit there, shake my head and go: nope they don't understand what I'm trying to do. And then I stop myself and look at it objectively. Am I feeling that way because I know it's a fault on their part? Or am I just struggling to see their point of view, and find that it's actually a pretty spot-on critique? Spoiler, it's usually the latter.

While you may find the urge to rant and rave, try to hold back on that. And if you must let it out, do so privately even if that means writing it all down somewhere no one is ever going to see it. At the end of the day, our job is to tell stories, and if someone reading yours is missing a huge plot point, or theme, it's probably because you, as the author, haven't made it clear enough. And that's on you, not them.

I have written many genres, and a whole ton of books, but not one of them has been above reproach when it comes to critical reviews or feedback from other people. I'm talking here more about first draft and revisions before it gets to the professional edit (though that has happened to me more than once) and less so about people who are reading the final, polished piece. Most of the time, unless there's some massive glaring error, you can't do much about the latter, but the former? You can work with these things in mind and end up making things a hell of a lot better when it comes to your work.

I talked a few weeks back about growing as a writer (found here). Some of that growth comes from handling criticism, what you do when you hear it, and how you respond to it. Yes there have been times when I've read feedback and not had the first clue how to fix it, or even if it's valid, but that's why it's important to get some distance from it all, have a good long think before jumping right back in to fix everything.

That said, there will be times when the feedback suggests you do something that you personally don't feel is right for your story, and in that case, it's about remembering that not everyone will like your work, and that's normal and okay and all of that. I generally apply a rule of three, if three betas mention the same plot issue, then I'll decide about trying to fix it. If it's one beta and all of the others loved it, then I'll consider it a personal taste thing and leave it be.

There is always something to be learned from feedback, whether it's about realising that certain people aren't your target audience or that you've not been as clear with your plot or descriptions or whatever, as you thought you had been. There's nothing wrong with needing to tweak and change things, and there's nothing wrong with needing a little time to think about how to do so. This is why the beta and critique partner steps are so very important. You need to know what readers are going to think before you go into edits, or even publication.

Everyone deals with things differently, and part of being a writer is being able to work out how you personal will deal with critique and what comes from that. Just keep your cool, weigh up your choices, and see whether it's valid or not. If it is, take some time to think through what can be done to change things. You'll thank yourself later.

Any questions? Lemme know in the comments below.

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