Writers talk a lot about silencing the inner critic, and for good reason. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome plague most of the writers I know. And many of the agents and editors, too. Learning to push past that inner critic and keep writing is important.
But sometimes, writers forget how to deal with the outer critic.
Their critique partners and beta readers, editors, mentors, agents, or fellow authors who offer to give them feedback. Because as much as most writers carry around a lot of self-doubt, it's also a part of human nature that people don't like being told they've done something wrong. It's embarrassing. But don't let that knee-jerk reaction set off your inner jerk.
Here are some tips on how to handle critique of your work:
1. NEVER respond immediately. Especially if you don't agree and are feeling hurt or angry. Give those feelings a little time to pass before you say or do something you might regret. Read a book for fun, binge a Netflix show, have some ice cream, go run a mile, whatever your coping method is. All writers need a good self-care routine for handling rejection.
2. Try to separate criticism of your words from criticism of you as as person. This is hard, I know. But it's a writing survival skill. If you can't handle a critique of your draft, you aren't prepared to handle reviews from blunt readers (and trolls).
3. If you disagree with criticisms or suggestions that you received, let them sit for a few days. Hurt pride has stopped me from seeing the validity of criticisms initially more than once, but after a few days, I could separate my feelings from what was being said, and I saw the criticism was right.
4. If you don't like a suggestion, you don't have to take it. A critique partner or editor may point out a problem that's legitimate, but offer a solution that doesn't fit your writing or vision of the manuscript. You can have a conversation with them about it--what if I tried this instead? It's your story, after all. You're in charge.
5. DO appreciate the positive comments. A good, constructive critique should point out things you're doing well, because those things need reinforcement just as much as problems need correcting. Don't brush off the compliments. Trust me, as an editor--we're not lying when we say we like something. That doesn't help anyone.
6. Don't attack the person who offered to read your work and help you. That's not how you repay someone. (Unless you encounter genuine gaslighting/abuse, which is different from simply being upset someone else didn't like your work.)
If you disagree strongly with their criticisms, or don't understand what they said, ask to talk about it. But leave your feelings at the metaphorical door so you can have a productive discussion.
7. In the event that you receive terrible news and find out you have written something offensive, take a deep breath. Remember two things.
First, sensitivity issues aren't about political correctness or ideology. They're about not using words or stereotypes or tropes that cause harm to marginalized readers. This is especially true in the case of MG or YA literature.
Second, it's not about what you intended to write, or whether or not you personally are a racist or whatever other type or -ist. No one is saying you are. What they are saying is that you've slipped up, but you have a chance to fix it before your story ends up in the hands of some kid who's already being picked on because they're "different." It comes down to which is more important; an author's personal pride, or not causing harm to their audience.
So that's a lot to keep in mind, but what it really boils down to is this: before you dive back into editing, take a breath, step back, and consider someone else's point of view.
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!