Your writing is something so important to you – so personal – that letting others read it can sometimes be a scary thing. However, peer critique is essential for any writer who wishes to improve their craft. When you expose your soul and then receive a harsh critique, it can feel like an unexpected, crippling blow. You can’t let harsh critiques stop you, so here are some tips on how to deal with them.
The most important thing to remember is that the harsh critique of your writing is not a critique of you as a person. You need to separate yourself from your work and realize that the critique is not personal. Try to leave your emotions out of it as best as possible, and remind yourself not to get defensive, angry, or depressed, because it isn’t about you.
Take a Break
If you’ve just received some harsh criticism, and feel you might still can’t help being quite upset by it, you need to take a break. Don’t continue speaking with the critic or reading their notes. Don’t sit and agonize over what you’ve been told. Walk away and turn your attention to something entirely different, something you enjoy that will distract you. Return when you’ve calmed down and are ready, even if it’s days later.
Consider the Source
You must also remember that what you’re hearing is just one person’s take on your writing. Consider if anything the critic is telling you might have been influenced by their personal preferences. Look out for opinions that are subjective rather than objective. This shouldn’t be an excuse or easy-out to disregard everything they’ve said, just remember sometimes things need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Focus on the Positive
So you know what the critic thinks isn’t so great about your work, but what do they like about it? Hopefully they’ve already told you. If they haven’t, ask them to tell you what the story’s strengths are and what they liked best about it. Try to focus on that for a while, and perhaps work on strengthening the positive aspects before you try to improve on your weaknesses.
Get a Second Opinion
If you’re really upset by the harsh critique, consider seeking out a second opinion. Ask someone whose opinion you respect, but don’t ask someone you know will only want to make you feel better. You want to seek out additional constructive criticism, not just look for praise. A second opinion should help you determine if the harsh critique has merit, and additional feedback is always helpful.
Plan to Improve
Once you’ve stopped sulking, it’s time to get to work. Use that harsh critique as fuel for your creative fire, and aim to make your story one hundred times better. It’s a good idea to actually write out your plan for implementing improvements. What areas are you going to work on? What are you going to change? Then decide what you’ll tackle first, second, third, and so on. Bite-size goals are less intimidating and will help you progress steadily.
Alayne Valentine is a writer and college student who has faced more than her fare share of criticism. She loves to write and covers anything from character development to using grammar checkers.
Photo Credit: OkayCityNate