Friday, September 19, 2014

Hard-to-take critiques

Every new contest brings a lot of emotions. Some good, some not so good. Too many hopefuls are riddled with strong feelings of disappointment and heartache. Even worse are the ones that allow sticky feelings like anger to take over. 

What we do is so personal, so it’s very hard not take rejection personally.

Because no one likes to hear that they’re not on the right track, especially when the feedback we get was something we so didn’t expect.

First reaction: Denial.
“No, that’s not true. They just don’t get it. They’re WRONG!”

Yeah, maybe that’s true. They could be wrong. But you should never assume they’re wrong. There is always something important to learn from another person’s perspective. Even if it just means being prepared for more of the same perspective later.

Second reaction: Anger
"How could they say that? They’re just jealous fools! I hate them"

Sure, there are the occasional times where a critique isn’t fair. You hit a sore spot with a reviewer. They were in a REALLY bad mood when they read your work. They really like making people angry.
Or… maybe you’re just not thinking clearly. Maybe your own emotions are too high to really get it right now.

Third Reaction: Bargaining
“No, no! They just didn’t read it right. See this makes sense because I said this. If you knew this about my character you wouldn’t ever have thought that!”

Okay, now you’re just making excuses. It’s your job to make sure they are getting it. If they aren’t, there may be something you can do to fix that.

Fourth Reaction: Depression
"I suck. I’m horrible. I’m never going to get anywhere!"

No. You just have more to learn. There is ALWAYS more to learn.

All the above reactions are normal and natural, but they’re not rational. Sometimes the truth in those comments don’t sink in at first.

What you should do: Stop!

Do not react, at least not publicly. Let the words settle. ESPECIALLY when it comes from an agent or editor. DO NOT respond right away if you’re feeling any strong emotions.

Sometimes what you think is an acceptable response can come off way different when you’re upset. So just give yourself time to cope and accept it. Let yourself freak out, become angry, sad, whatever it is, on your own. THEN respond (or don’t, depending).
You are completely welcome to disagree with the feedback you received—so long as that is a rational response, after you’ve taken some time to understand what the review is really saying.

You might be able to guess the next step on the list of reactions of hard-to-take critiques. 

Reaction Five: Acceptance
Ding! Ding! Ding!

Acceptance can come in a lot of different forms. It doesn't just mean "Yes! They're totally right!" It could also mean, "Okay, I see why they said that. I just don't agree." or even, "I see what they're saying but I'm not sure I agree yet. Maybe I should get another opinion."

The point is taking a good long look at the feedback both to understand what the reader is really saying and to decide if it is really something you want to use. Not all critiques are correct. A lot of them are simply opinion. But so long as you are look the at feedback in a rational way, you are totally good to go.

This is where we all want to be. Rationally prepared to take on the critique and make ourselves better. Now it’s time to learn something!


  1. Spot-on.
    I figure every feedback is worth the agony if I got at least one thing that made my story better out of it. If I didn't take that, at the very least, it was senseless angst *I wasted.*

  2. Right. And even critiques you don't agree with are still worth your time because it thickens your skin and helps you learn to cope with differing opinions-- because they'll always be there. Especially once you publish.
    Learning to cope is a life lesson.