"In this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena."Even if your critique partners are sensitive and well intentioned, negative feedback can defeat a new writer. Here are a few survival tips to help you weather harsh criticism in the arena:
- Be a good listener. Take notes and ask questions for clarification; don't argue or defend your work. Delivering criticism is a delicate operation and if you become defensive your critique partner may shut down before delivering all the goods. Getting a good reading is a gift, so listen to every word.
- Be aware that some feedback will be obvious (why didn't I see that?), some will be helpful (I'll think about that), and some will be difficult (I never thought about it that way). Sift through comments and be willing to consider things from a new perspective.
- If the feedback is too overwhelming to process, put it on a back burner and let it sit for a while. Everything looks different from a distance.
- Consider the source. Criticism sometimes says more about the criticizer than the manuscript.
- Don't take it personally--even if it comes across personally.
- If you are afraid to make suggested revisions, save your old document and make revisions on a fresh copy. Or paste your cuts to a new document so you can visit them whenever you like. Change doesn't have to be permanent and good material can be recycled elsewhere.
- Don't ignore criticism that you think is unjustified. The fact that your reader missed the point may be a red flag that your work is not communicating as you intended. Determine what they aren't getting and fix the disconnect in your own way.
- Writers are complex individuals and groups have dynamics so if you leave each session feeling defeated, don't give up on writing. Find a new group.
The goal is to write the best book you can, and sifting through feedback to use the advice that gets you there is important. Ignore insecurities that gravitate towards failure and keep your mind on the goal. A writer submits to bruising critique sessions because writing is about communicating. And critique partners allow us to test the waters before sending our precious work into the world. The good news is that if you learn to handle the heat in writing group, your powers of resistance may be sufficiently conditioned to move onto the published authors' far nastier arena: reader reviews.