I asked an established author to read my first book, Dark Cherub. It took her a while to read it but I had expected that. I had assured her that I could handle tough criticism and would use any negative feedback she gave me to better my writing career (oh the innocent lamb I was!) and would be most grateful for her input.
When I finally saw her email, I saw these ominous words: “First of all, you are a gifted writer, so remember that more than any of my other comments! I reread some of your old e-mails, and you said you didn’t mind tough criticism, so that reassures me! I have to be honest (I really grappled with what to write you), I found it hard to read your story.”
Note to self: never put lies in writing. They come back to haunt you.
The rest of the email began a gentle but strong critique of my novel which burned me. I think I was depressed for two hours (days) or possibly a day (a week). Others had enjoyed my story so why couldn’t this wonderful, superlative, dynamic writer not enjoy my book?
No one likes to hear that the work they’ve spend sweat, blood, and tears over (although we use that adage, and we all know that if a drop of blood landed on the keyboard or paper, we’d all run to the hospital) doesn’t sound good. We want people to like what we’ve written. However, as she told me later on, reading is subjective. What one person likes another doesn’t. There has been more than one book I’ve read where I thought it wasn’t worth the paper printed on. And others I wouldn’t let anyone borrow because I love the book much.
Yet, I learned from the criticism and it did help me in my writing and I will always be thankful to her that she took time out to read it.
Using criticism in our work helps us to improve our craft. If we always hear positive things, we would never know the areas we need to improve on. In keeping with this thought, here are some of my suggestions for dealing with someone who criticizes your work:
1. Everyone’s opinion is not always a fact. The very same day I received the email, I got another one from another person who thoroughly enjoyed what I had written.
2. Listen to what is being said. If the criticism is, “It’s stupid,” you can deduce the statement is not a helpful one and then retaliate with, “No, you’re stupid!” (hopefully your critique help is weaker than you or you can run faster than them). However, if someone says, “The flow of the story seemed jumpy to me,” then you can go back to your work and see how to smooth out and transition easily from one scene to the other.
3. Join or start a critique group with fellow authors. Many authors have found this to be an essential part of the writing process. You have a fellow comrade who can give you genuine feedback on how to improve your story. Perhaps your strength is in character development and your critique partner’s is in plot structure. You can use each other’s strengths to build upon.
Don’t feel too badly if you do receive negative feedback. Use it and transform it to positive.