Still drowsy, sipping your morning coffee, you stumble toward your computer as you get ready for a new day. Checking your e-mail, you’re hoping for a note about your story. After all, you joined that writer’s site a few weeks ago and have dutifully read and reviewed a number of posts since then.
Your eyes go wide. Finally, there’s a message. Wow! Someone’s posted a review of your story! Eagerly, you go to the site, click on the link to your post.
Shock sets in. You almost drop your coffee. 2 stars. The reviewer gave your story only 2 stars out of 5! How can this be?
Scenario 1. You quickly scroll down to the written comments. As you read, anger builds. This person is a fool! He clearly knows absolutely nothing about writing, or is just too dim to appreciate the genius of your work! You dash off a response letting the clown know exactly what you think of him and add that you hope to find and trash his work in return. Satisfied you’ve handled this jerk properly you close down the internet connection and get to work. You know the good reviews are coming, probably only days away. It’s just a matter of time.
Oddly, no more reviews ever appear.
Scenario 2. You don’t even want to look at the comments. You feel the weight around your shoulders, the sagging around your eyes as tears begin to well and depression sets in. Hesitantly, you scroll down the comments, staring without reading. They’re long. She obviously found a lot to dislike in your story. You close down the connection, dump the coffee, make yourself a cup of tea and cry. A few hours later you log back on, delete your story from the site, and cry some more. The dream of being a writer crushed.
Granted, these scenarios are extremes at either end of a spectrum, but I’ve known both to happen. They are, of course, the absolute wrong way to approach feedback on your work.
Probably the most important thing to understand about receiving critical reviews of your work is that you must learn to take them in a very cold, analytical way. This is definitely a difficult thing to do because writing is a very personal experience. You are putting yourself, your thoughts, your vision of story, characters, etc. out there for the world to see. To do this you need to have a certain amount of ego, and remember, ego is a very delicate thing, easily bruised.
So what so you do?
Well, try to read through the comments just to get the gist. If you need to vent a bit go for a walk, shoot some hoops, do anything but respond. Never, never respond to criticism in any way other than to say “Thank you, for your thoughts.” Keep in mind that 90% of people who review other people’s work are trying to be helpful. To follow scenario 1 is to find yourself labeled as a person who can’t take criticism. Nobody bothers to try to help someone who can’t accept criticism. So most important – cool down.
On the other hand, don’t act like the writer in Scenario 2. Take criticism as an offer of help, not a crushing blow to your dreams.
Once over the initial shock go back and reread the comments. There is no law that says this person is correct – it’s just their opinion. So read the comments critically. Accept the good, reject the bad. Try to ignore the tone if it’s a bit harsh. I know some people who offer valid criticism, but can’t help but be sarcastic. They are jerks, but even a jerk can be knowledgeable. So look for content not tone (I admit this is difficult, but try). Ask yourself the following questions:
Do the criticisms refer to mechanics of writing (grammar, spelling, etc.)? If they do, then go back and check your post – did you proof read it carefully? Were you in too much of a rush? Is this something you need to work on? Be truthful with yourself.
Is the person trying to point out plot problems? Consider these types of comments carefully. Many times we get wrapped up in our story and have our character do something “cool,” or something to advance the plot which doesn’t really work because we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and don’t really know how to get out. Non sequiturs, poor plotting, inconsistencies in character or setting are all red flags indicating poor writing. If someone is trying to help by pointing these out, be thankful, not angry.
Are they having problems with your writing style? I tend to repeat the same words too often which can make for boring reading. Are you trying to be too literary? Is your style hard to follow? All are things which you should consider.
But remember, it’s your story. Read through the comments carefully, and go back and look over your writing. If the criticism is correct, admit it, learn from it, and move on (posting a “Thank you” also tells people you appreciate their efforts). It will help you to improve as a writer. On the other hand, if it is mainly opinion based, feel free to disagree. Writers will often argue with their editors over style, plot points, etc., so why worry about an anonymous critic?
Bottom line – in most cases these people are trying to help (as you are trying to help them – see my last post). So learn to accept criticism. It’s kind of like putting iodine on a cut – it can hurt like hell, but it usually is beneficial.