"And above all watch with glittering eyes the world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." - Roald Dahl

6 March 2014

Accepting Critique

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When I was a student at University during my first year studying Occupational Therapy, we had individual projects to work on. While I can’t remember the exact details of what it was we had to make, it being some time ago, I do remember, quite vividly, the feedback our lecturer gave to one of the girls in my class, which was as follows: This is the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen in my life! Needless to say, my classmate left the room in a ball of tears and it took much courage for her to return and face this said lecturer again.

I’m sure you’d agree that this sort of blunt, in your face feedback is harsh and certainly difficult to accept. It is often difficult to draw the line between recognising when your work is being criticised or when you are being criticised as a person. Of course, there is a difference between giving constructive criticism and just being plain mean. Some people just have to work a bit harder at finding it. I myself am partial to being gently critiqued, as I’m sure we all are, however, we are not always necessarily in control of this.

I’ve sent my manuscript to a number of traditional publishers and whenever I see the response email in my inbox, I have to set the scene before I actually open it up to read it. I need to be in a quiet area, alone (just in case it’s a ‘no’ and I have a bit of a meltdown) and in full concentration mode. I tell myself that whatever it says, positive or negative, I just have to be a big girl about it and deal with it. It’s easier said than done, of course. No matter how hard I try to brace myself for the worst, the fact that someone doesn’t like something that I’ve written, something that I’ve poured hours into, my heart and soul into, can be quite a blow to one’s ego. But I’ve learnt that the initial defence technique of Bah, what do they know? is probably a necessary stepping stone towards Step 2, which is actually going back to that same email a day or two later and reading it with fresh eyes. Very often you’ll find that, if you take a step backwards from your work, you’ll agree with the feedback. Pushing the pride and brooding aside, you’ll realise that if you really want to improve your writing, the best thing to do is accept the critique openly and decide what you’d like to do with it.

Now while I’ve had some very good practice at dealing with negative feedback, while I was writing my STORM stories (The Icarus Curse & Dahlias and Daisies) I received good feedback, which threw me slightly, I’ll admit. People actually liked my work, which was brilliant! But a strange thing happened – I’ve now become slightly paranoid – mainly about being able to produce more stories that people will like. I thought I wanted good feedback, but now I have a growing fear that what if it never happens again?!

I suppose the moral of this story is to learn to be ready for and to be receptive to all kinds of critiques we receive, be it good or bad. Once we have books out in the big wide world for people to purchase and read, remember, they’ll be able to leave reviews about your work as well, so I suggest that we all make use of the time while we’re still trying to get our work out there, to also get used to the feedback. We writers are a strange bunch. We moan when we get bad feedback; we even moan when we get good feedback. Hard creatures to please, aren’t we?


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