With that title you were probably expecting a rant from the author about a negative comment or review. Instead I want to talk about how to handle feedback, specifically critique-quality comments from writers or other professionals. Actually, I want to talk about how *I* handle those comments. Because at this point in the game I’ve noticed a trend in the way I receive and process feedback.
A Love-Hate Relationship
Last month one of my blogging friends, Tim Kane, wrote a post titled A Love Hate Relationship with Feedback. I thought the title was genius and it snagged my attention as something I could relate to—before I even read the post.
Most writers crave feedback, especially if you’re new to the field or just beginning to get your work out there. Feedback is essential to growth. And yet as Tim mentioned in his post, a part of us doesn’t really want to know the truth. It wants to hear how much people love our work. Let’s face it—as writers, we want to hear how awesome we are.
The Possible Responses
If you’re looking for honesty you’ll end up facing the negative sooner or later, and it’s likely to be sooner rather than later. How do you handle that kind of feedback? (And for clarification’s sake, we’re talking about a legitimate critique from someone with your best interest in mind, not a hate-filled rant by someone who doesn’t actually care about you or your writing.)
There are three possible responses to negative feedback:
The easiest response is to deny the validity of the comments. This can come in two ways. The first is by renouncing the validity of the person you sought feedback from in the first place. In other words, you’re turning to that once-esteemed critique partner and calling him or her an idiot. The second is by claiming the critic is out to get you. In short, you’re acting like he or she is actually that hate-driven reviewer instead of someone who’s trying to help you improve your craft. Regardless of which, denial often ends with a haughty set of the shoulders and a resolute, “He/she can shove it because I’m not changing anything.”
If denial is the “fight” instinct, defeat is the “flight” instinct. It’s when the bad news that your story arc doesn’t work sends you spiraling into a pit of despair, only stopping you when you hit the rocky bottom and give up. The feedback that was supposed to help has instead convinced you that the entire story is no good and should be thrown out. Defeat can wreck not only a story but a writer, especially if you give up on writing all together.
At first glance, this response may not seem any more promising than the other two, although it’s somewhere in between them. Denial is the attempt to avoid disappointment and defeat is disappointment that has sat at the back of the fridge until it’s turned green and fuzzy. It’s hard not to be disappointed when you get negative feedback. On the surface it can be painful. But realistic disappointment is temporary. It’s part of the acceptance process. Only after you accept the criticism can you heed it—and make it work for you.
Click here to read the second post on Feedback and how I’ve learned to move past disappointment in my own writing career.
You might also be interested in: