I’m not going to lie, I’m bad at receiving feedback. I have a knee-jerk reaction of taking personal offense. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad that my Master’s program is online. I can give myself some space and work through my emotional muck enough to see the value of the feedback. It’s painful but if we want our work to meet its full potential, we have to be open to critique. As Harper Lee said, you need a thick hide to be a writer.
The pain may never fully disappear. I’ve been in and out of workshops since high school and I still take it personally. That’s especially true when a piece needs a lot of work. I’m not willing to admit it at first. If I give myself a day or two away from it, I can swallow my pride and admit that the reader might have a point. From there I can separate the useful feedback from the not-so-useful. I still choose which points to follow but I’m open to the possibilities.
It’s even worse for me when I receive critiques from my personal tutor. She’s very nice and the vast majority of what she says is constructive. Nevertheless, she’s a published writer. My aim with this program is to improve my writing but, not-so-deep down, I want to impress her, too. When her comments involve fully rewriting most (if not all) of the story, it’s hard to read. It’s especially painful since she’s often right.
The important thing is that I consider the advice. That’s all that matters when writers interact with critique. You can cry it out all you need to, so long as you look at it again and think it over before rejecting suggestions outright.
With the format of my program’s feedback sessions, it’s easy to give into defensive impulses. You post the story, someone responds, and you immediately want to reply with some explanation of your work or justification for your choices. I’m guilty of this. I understand the reason for it. You invested a lot of time and heart into your story, you know what you envision for it, but somehow your diamond did not shine so brightly for the reader.
My advice: DO NOT REPLY THE FIRST DAY. Let it sit for at least twenty-four hours. Then reexamine the critique, maybe reread your story, and decide if you really need to defend your writing. This time will also allow you to gather any questions you have and articulate them properly.
This tactic isn’t possible with live/synchronous workshops for obvious reasons. However, I highly recommend it with asynchronous feedback and when you’re getting feedback from friends. You probably have a limited amount of time to do so with any formal feedback sessions, so don’t spend too much time on it. Even a little time will give you enough perspective to respond appropriately. And when you’re exchanging stories with friends, well, they can carry on their merry way until you’re ready to shoot them an email nitpicking their nitpicks.
In addition to stepping back, remember that you have the final say pre-publication. You decide which changes to make and which to ignore. Do what you think is best for your work. If you give all feedback fair consideration, you’ll know what to do.
Do you have any special techniques or advice for handling critique? Drop a line in the comments.