Receiving a knife in the gut. Sorry. I mean criticism.

First of all, sorry for the lateness of this post today. I honestly meant to do it earlier but my mind has been elsewhere, something which I will explain at the end of the month.

Yesterday I received two critiques, which were forced upon me, for one of my short stories. Ouch. I thought my skin was starting to thicken but I had forgotten how painful it can be to have your work torn to shreds.

Amongst the pressure to use other writers’ styles and explain every little detail behind my characters actions, there were two (yes, two) compliments. So I did what any self-respecting writer does when they receive such comments. I threw a tantrum, vowed to never write again and then stuffed my lactose intolerant gut with soothing Ben and Jerrys ice cream (don’t worry, I popped some lactase pills first to protect me from more pain).

Bridget Jones

Receiving criticism, either from reviews, friends, beta readers or peer reviews, always hurts. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new writer, professional or bestseller. It hurts. So how do you cope and what do you do when your story is ripped apart?

How to cope with criticism

First of all, in all seriousness, you are allowed to cry/scream/punch a pillow/throw a tantrum. Equally, you are allowed to announce to your guinea pigs (in my case) that you’ll never write again. They promise not to tell anyone.

Next, you have to console yourself. Go out on the town with your mates, or have a spa day, watch some sport or eat a bowl of damn good ice cream (Phish Food if you were asking). Whatever you do to make yourself happy. Again, it is a universal fact that you have permission to do this upon receiving criticism of your writing.

Lastly, go back over those comments with a level head and implement changes as appropriate. Your story will be better for it. Which leads us onto…

What to do with the criticism

  1. So you’ve recovered from the initial reading of the comments. I imagine you’ve also had a good think about them. First things first, go through them again and see what you can work with.
  1. First of all, go through each comment and see what your gut agrees with. Ignore your head, it knows not what it thinks. Listen to your instincts and gut and immediately ignore anything that you know deep down isn’t right.
  1. Hang on! Before you delete the remaining comments, take another peak. Who has given you this feedback? What angle are they coming from? If they’re giving you advice on writing and they’re not writers, or perhaps new writers, only take the advice if you know deep down they’re right. If they’re not a regular reader of fantasy and they’re giving you advice on your dragons, again, pinch of salt time. But if it’s a comment about plot and they’re regular readers, then have a really good think before you decide what to do. Readers are who you’re aiming your story at and plot holes are annoying, whatever your genre.
    Important note: if more than one person says the same thing, you might need to engage your head.
  2. By now you should have whittled the terrible criticism down to the comments that make sense, ring true, are trustworthy and will truly make your story better. If you have conflicting comments, then decide which direction you think your story should take.
  1. Make the changes! Edit, rewrite if necessary and edit again.

At every stage of receiving criticism, please remember that this is your story, your baby. If you’re not proud of it, if it doesn’t retain your voice, then there’s no point to it. Stick to your guns and write the story that you want to write. Just allow those criticisms to help your learn and develop not only your story, but your writing skills. Dismiss everything else.

On that note, off I go to start editing my story. Grumble, grumble.

Do you have any extra tips for coping with and using criticism?

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4 responses to “Receiving a knife in the gut. Sorry. I mean criticism.

  1. Ha ha, I heartily endorse the Phish Food! Hurrah for lactase pills – they’ve made hubby’s life (and therefore mine) so much better. 😉
    Anyway, criticism. I agree with all the points you make. You mention someone wanting you to explain every one of your character’s actions. I had a fellow student on my Creative Writing course who was like that. I foolishly changed my first piece according to this criticism, and then my tutor warned me against over-explaining! I should have gone with my gut! I ignored my coursemate when he said the same thing about future pieces. No-one else thought the same. My tutor said ‘credit the reader with some intelligence – they can work it out.’ Good advice. Although my fellow student apparently couldn’t work it out. 😉 😉
    Your point about more than one person making the same criticism is good – that may be something in your story that needs addressed. As you say, though, if it stops sounding like you, and being what you want to write, there’s no point. Another funny point my tutor made was ‘You might have 5 people all make the same criticism, and you might think: I don’t care, they’re all stupid, I’m leaving it as it is! And that’s up to you.’ 🙂
    I’ll stop waffling now. xx

    • Completely agree! Ice cream and all. So glad other people have experienced people wanting you to explain everything! Does make you wonder about some people though, doesn’t it 😉 And you’re so right, even if 5 people say the same thing we don’t have to listen to them. Might have to have a chat with my gut xx

  2. Other authors will tell you what THEY would do with the story. They may make suggestions about length, style, dialogue or other attributes that fit their writing more than yours. Be aware of where they’re coming from so you can sift through those tendencies. Chances are they also offered some pointers you should think about.

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