Although I don’t submit my writing nor do I critique here at Scribophile, I do face criticism on a weekly basis with my writing group, so I’d like to think that I can relate. From my experience, here are some pointers on how to take criticism.
1) Don’t interrupt. This is less of an issue with online criticism, but it has its implications, so listen up. It is natural for you, dear writer, to be defensive of your work. If stories can be considered a writer’s ‘baby,’ then pointing out imperfections in them can be comparable to criticizing someone’s parenting, or calling someone’s child ugly. But writing isn’t parenting, especially since you have to learn when to kill your babies. And this means shutting up sometimes. If it sounds like someone’s comments are due to them ‘not getting it’ and you feel the need to explain: you’ve failed. The text should speak for itself. Books don’t come with virtual authors who will answer your questions and guide you through confusion. Let people speak and get all of their comments on the table. In an online forum, this also means fully reading through a person’s response before formulating your own rebuttal. Don’t let your mental barrier go up and keep you from extracting some useful advice.
2) I didn’t have time to edit/I rushed through isn’t an excuse. Feel free to have it as a caveat beforehand, but as a response it screams DENIAL and will discourage honesty. If you don’t think the piece is ready for others to read, then don’t let them read it! Otherwise, be ready to have it torn apart. It’s not the critic’s job to know which parts of your writing you could fix yourself when revising as opposed to what needs serious work. Like I said, mention it before if it’s that big of a deal. You can even ask critics to only give feedback on a certain element. For example: I wrote this story in an hour and I know the grammar is shitty, but I’m looking for thoughts on the plot. Does it look like this has potential if I flesh out the characters…? and so forth and so on.
3) Take it with a grain of salt. Every masterpiece has its critics. Nothing is for everyone. And even people with the best eye for literature will not be on point with every single one of their comments. So when someone tells you that your story is garbage and that you’d be better to abandon it and go work on something else, don’t blindly follow the advice. See what other people think. Look at your work from another angle and ask yourself if there is something about it that the critic totally missed. For example, if they thought that a vampire love story is too overdone and your story is, in fact, about vampires and love, then that’s different if your intention is to make the most gruesome horror tale of all time, and the love is a side thing. When you revise, make it clear what the story’s purpose is, and then that critic’s comments may no longer be relevant.
4) At the same time, your worst critic can be your best friend. Have you ever submitted a piece to a group and everyone loved it, had only great things to say, and you came away feeling like you were bound to be the next JK Rowling? That’s great…but how did it help you improve? Sometimes there will be one person who goes against the grain. They might see things that others, mesmerized by the awesomeness of your story, didn’t. Don’t resent them for messing up your perfect run. Thank them for reminding you that nothing is perfect, and then go and see what you can do to improve.
5) Brainstorm with people. Rather than get offended that someone thinks your story is a flaming pile of poo, respond with other ideas/edits and see what they think. Treat it as a conversation rather than an attack. In the end, you might have something both of you like better.
6) Don’t get discouraged. Some people are assholes. Others are just honest. You might suck as a writer: so what? Keep at it.
How do you deal with criticism? What are your ways for making the best out of what others say?