Monday, August 5, 2013

All the Feels: Coping with Critique

You write ALL THE WORDS. You revise them. You lose sleep over them. You revise them again. And again. Once your eyes are bleeding keyboard keys, you send them out into the world to get feedback, hoping for constructive criticism.

Except the feedback you get makes you feel like this...

Our word babies are precious to us. We work hard for them. Cry over them. They are born of us. And then we send them out into the world and who do they meet first?


If you've ever exposed your work to online critters you don't know (or maybe even some you do), you've been there. So how do we handle critique that we're less than excited about? Do we throw it out and just deem it crap not worth listening to?

Well, you could. But it wouldn't necessarily be smart.

Negative criticism doesn't go away when you get published, it just gets tougher. Then, not only do you have to deal with other writers, but snarky Goodreads snarksters with GIFs out the wazooo.

*looks around* *whistles*.

So how do you cope with feedback that stings, but might have some merit?

1. Make a plan for handling critique before you take it on. Before your ego gets involved, or you read (or in the case of a live critique group hear) a piece of feedback, make a plan for how you're going to handle it. My plan includes not going to live critique groups anymore because counting to five does not eliminate my inner fiery Italian lady with a rolling pin and a mean right hook. It also includes a three strikes rule for any and all feedback I receive. If I receive the same piece of feedback three times, I know it's worth considering. Anything less than that is an opinion.

2.  Prepare yourself for the worst. It's possible that you will receive nothing but negative feedback in a single critique. Whether that feedback is of any value to you, you can determine later on, but if you expect things could be ugly, then it hurts less IF they are. And it makes it super fun when the feedback is glowing.

3. Assume their intent is positive. It might not be. We all know a critter or two (or ten) who get power trips out of making other writers feel small. Who want everyone to feel as weak as they feel about their own writing. But for the sake of your sanity, assume that the people who are giving you feedback are actually trying to help. Because being pissed off at assholes won't help you write better.

4. Consider the source. If this is a critique partner you've been working with for years or a best-selling author with hella experience, or ya know, an agent, that's probably worth more than some other critiques you might receive. If you're in a forum full of n00bs, the feedback you get might not necessarily be sound. Like the person in my first live critique group who tried to convince me that it just wasn't authentic for my Bostonian character to like the Yankees.

It's authentic. We just call them traitors and shun them at the bah.

5. Take your ego out of it. Someone telling you that your narrative voice isn't strong enough is not the same as them telling you that you're a horrible writer who might as well dabble in quantum physics instead because your grasp of your native language is just that terrible. We all make mistakes. We're all nearsighted about our work at times. We're human. Sorta. 

6. Remember why you seek critique in the first place. If you think your work is perfect and nothing can be done to improve it, then why are you putting your words up for critique at all?

7. No one says you have to decide what to change right away. If a comment doesn't sit right with you, if you're not sure about it, if it's something that's going to require a hell of a lot of work and you want to noodle on it before you invest in that big a chance, stick it in a comment bubble in the side of your MS Word document, or in an Evernote file called "possible changes to consider."

8. If none of that helps, there are always hexes and voodoo dolls. 

At the end of the day, it's your story and you know it better than anyone. There are going to be aspects of it you feel strongly about. But if you feel that way about every aspect of your story, you might not be as open to critique as you need to be to reach an audience outside your mom and your best friend.  

What do you to make critique easier on your self-esteem?

Dannie Morin is an author, blogger, and freelance editor. She's currently contemplating seeking help for her social media addiction. In the meantime, you can find her on Blogger Facebook Goodreads & Twitter. If you've got suggestions for a future All the Feels post, contact Dannie via the contact form on her blog. She is repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.


  1. I think the key to a good critique is someone who's actually invested in you as a writer, or your success. I won't start a critique unless I'm invested--but if I'm invested, watch out world!