Like Snoopy, I’ve never been graceful when it comes to taking criticism.
I recently took a course where I wrote a full manuscript and got criticism from an established author. (I’m not going to give you names because I feel like that breaks ALL THE RULES of posting stuff on the Interwebz.) The program was set up so that I would send about a chapter every week or so to my mentor who would then send it back with comments/criticisms. Throughout most of the program, I divided the comments into two categories: HELPFUL (i.e. yes, I’ll keep that in mind, thank you) and HSDAFLKSDFH (i.e. well, that’s what you think, dummy, and I don’t recall asking you for your…oh wait, I guess I’m paying you for this, but that actually makes it harder to accept).
I can admit that I took the comments to heart and that I misread some of them (i.e. over-thought them until I was curled up in a ball of rage and self-pity), but, contrary to what people may tell you, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to not take criticism personally.
It’s hard to put yourself on a page, to give voice to your innermost thoughts, to imagine a world for your lovingly crafted characters only to have someone (for lack of a better phrase) rain all over your parade: “I don’t like this character. Get rid of that plot point. You need to describe your setting more. Break up your dialogue, I don’t like seeing it in chunks. Nothing happens in this chapter – it’s boring.”
So you re-write that chapter and the following chapter (just for good measure), but when you send it along, you get comments like this: “I know you gave him some redeeming qualities, but this character is dead weight. Thanks for changing it, but I liked that old plot point better. Your description of the setting seems forced and unnatural, like you didn’t want to do it. This conversation is too spaced out – does it need to take up that many pages? This chapter’s not boring anymore, but there’s a little too much going on.”
This is my exact reaction in a case like that.
Yes, criticism can be helpful. It can inspire you or encourage you. Maybe you’re motivated by anger and it will spur you to write your BEST WORK EVER. And yes, it’s definitely healthy to have people criticize you instead of always telling you that you’re wonderful and perfect otherwise you’ll end up like those people who audition for American Idol and don’t get in and they’re all like “But my mama always said I’m the best singer in town!”. Nobody likes those people.
But, you also have to learn – and this is something that can’t be taught – how to sift out the helpful from the hurtful. If anyone ever tells you that all criticism is helpful, then you have my permission to helpfully suggest that they take their head out of their butt. Which is not to say that you can’t learn from both types of criticism. You just have to remember (and it’s something I often forgot while taking that course) that CRITICISM = SUGGESTIONS.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and blah blah blah. Sometimes a critic will tell you “Change A, B, C, and D because I think it’s awful and terrible and you should be ashamed of yourself.”. But as the writer, YOU have the authority to say, “Well, I agree that A and B weren’t my best work, so consider them gone. But C? I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. And over my dead body am I changing D – that’s my favourite part!” Obviously, if you get 7 people telling you to change the same thing, then maybe you need to be more objective with your work (you’re on your own with that one, I JUST figured out how to do that myself).
It is so difficult not to dwell on what you see as negative, but lying awake at night plotting your revenge on the people who critiqued your work isn’t going to make it better or any easier to accept. You’re going to forget what you liked about your own book and end up hating the characters (and by extension, yourself) for a couple of weeks. But once you push the comments out of your mind, once you see them as being opinions and not facts, you’re going to read a scene in your manuscript that’s going to remind you why you love to write.
Plus once you’ve gotten comments from your “beta-readers”, you still have to send it to a professional editor for even MORE criticism! Yay!