by R.C. Lewis
Receiving criticism—if it's not in the first paragraph of a writer's job description, it should be. Handling it with professionalism and grace is a must-have skill.
Cat Woods recently discussed the basics of critique partners/groups and several real-life examples of changes made due to critter input. Some feedback resonates right away. (Yes, why didn't I think of that myself?) Some leaves you on the fence. (It could work, but the way I have it might be better, or maybe Door #3 ...) And some is immediately dismissed. (I write for teens and about teens, so while it might be grammatically correct, I'm not using "whom" in that dialogue.)
Those are the rational, I'm-the-writer-so-I-make-decisions-for-my-story reactions.
What about the emotional reactions? How do we react to "mean" critiques and reviews?
I'm not referring to an out-and-out bashing that says you have no business writing and calls into question the quality of your parentage. I'm not talking about reviews that turn out to be written by the guy/gal who stalked you in eighth grade and didn't take it well when you had to shoot him/her down. In fact, the feedback I'm talking about usually isn't "mean" at all.
It's honest. When in a pre-published critique situation, the critiquer usually intends to help. They tell you what works and what doesn't—for them. In a post-published review situation, they're doing what they're supposed to do—give their opinion of the book.
That doesn't mean it won't hurt, although some will deliver their criticism with more "cushioning" than others.
Should we hope for the "extra cushy" kind? Personally, I don't think so. Too much padding, and I might not realize how potentially serious an issue is. Tact is certainly appreciated, but not sugar-coating, at least for me.
Either way, still hurts.
So how do we handle it? Here's some un-cushioned advice, which I direct to myself as well: Suck it up.
When I'm working with my long-term critique partners, we know we're in each others' corner, so we can be blunt with both "Love it!" and "For the love of Neal Shusterman, R.C., what's with the eyebrow-raising?" Dialogue about feedback is useful, because it can help clarify both the writer's intention and the reader's perception.
In other situations, though, particularly if you're feeling hurt or have an urge to get defensive, here's my recommended response, in its entirety:
Thank you for taking the time. You've given me a lot to think about.
If you've already been published and it's a matter of negative reviews, I'll say it again: Suck it up. Moreover, ignore it. Don't respond. Stop looking at your Amazon or Goodreads page(s) if necessary.
And if you don't know why I recommend that so strongly, perhaps you missed the episode earlier this year involving the author of a book about a Mediterranean mariner.
How do you keep your ego in check when receiving criticism? What influence does the writer's possible reaction have when you offer feedback?