I've had A LOT of critique over the course of my ten years in publishing--to say nothing of the lifetime of critique before that, in creative writing classes, from friends, and as an academic.
I've given it, received it. I've loved the notes an editor has made in the margins of my precious manuscript, I've wondered what on earth a copyeditor has been smoking. I've filtered the "helpful" comments of friends--some which really are helpful, some which aren't at all--and managed to retain both the helpful bits and the well-meaning friends.
The thing is: it's all about context. I feel as if I can't possibly take a critique of my work too seriously unless I know where it's coming from. Is this the writer I know who would never allow his eyes to be sullied by a romance novel? Well, then, I'm going to ignore his comments about the central relationship in my book and pay more attention to his thoughts on the things I know he does well, like plotting and building scenes. Is this the vague friend who I think of as "every reader?" I'll probably ignore her directions on how to rewrite the book and pay more attention to her gut reactions to things--like, does she like the main character? If she doesn't, even if she doesn't know why, I'll pay that a lot more attention than her thoughts on what I ought to do instead.
I've been through a lot of phases with critiques of my writing. When I wasn't published and would write and write and write in my black and white notebooks (I loved Harriet the Spy, what can I tell you?) and later on a series of typewriters, clunky old computers, and very very slow laptops, I was desperate for any/all feedback. I didn't really care if people didn't like what I'd written; I just wanted to be read.
When I first got published, I had a small circle of people who read my books before I handed them in to my editor, and that was very helpful. I also had an agent who edited, so there was a lot of feedback from all sides, and I loved it because they often caught things I missed. But also because it allowed me to really figure out how to listen to what resonated for me and put aside the rest, which I believe is invaluable for writers. I've been known to call it the Inner F*&^ You. It's that thing inside of you that just doesn't care if twenty people tell you they hate something in your book--it's YOUR book and you JUST KNOW that you need to do it in a certain way.
I've never known the Inner F*&^ You to be wrong, by the way. You might have to change your execution, but if you know down deep how something needs to be, you're always, always right.
I've had strange periods where I had people reading every chapter I wrote as I wrote them, which rapidly became unsustainable for me. There can be such a thing as too many fingerprints on your work, especially in its early stages, when the last thing in the world you want to have to do is defend or even explain choices you don't know why you made...
I've spent the past couple of years not letting anyone but my editor read my books, and she only gets them when they're done. Fingerprintless books! I dive into the book and swim in it until I'm done, with nothing to go on but the story in my head, my gut feelings, and the craft I've (hopefully) collected over the course of writing more than thirty books. I made the switch when I was in a perilous place with my writing--too many deadlines and too much stress. Close to burnout, maybe, though I shudder at that word. And drawing back into the magical part of my head where all my stories come from--and really learning to trust that and cherish it--changed the whole game for me. Writing became delicious and exciting again. Hooray!
But if I lost that feeling and thought I needed some more hands on my work again, I'd rustle up some writer and reader friends in a heartbeat. Because while I respect and protect my writing process, what matters the most to me is the book. Whatever I have to do to deliver the best book I can write at any given time, that's what I'll do.
Megan Crane is sometimes known as Caitlin Crews. She would rather be outside. She's currently working on her thirty-third novel, and may have to convene a panel to read her thirty-second, which needs a whole bunch of revisions she's not looking forward to doing. You can find out more about her at www.megancrane.com or www.caitlincrews.com.