Friday, August 5, 2016

Everybody's A Critic: Responding to Criticism

Depending on the type of criticism and the way it's provided, a response may not be invited, such as with negative reviews on a book or commentary from an editor who hasn't invited either a response or an opportunity to re-submit.

Of course, with today's technology we are more capable than ever of responding to our critics.... Which isn't really a good thing. I've seen more than one online meltdown from an author when people left negative reviews. It doesn't do much for one's reputation.

So how do you respond to criticism?

Well, we've already taken care of the first steps: determining the difference between good and bad criticism. And, as I've said previously, if it's truly bad: chuck it. Don't respond to it beyond an "I'll take that into consideration" or some variation on that that theme.

 If it's good criticism or if you're not entirely sure if it's good, try these steps.

Remain Calm and Don't Be Defensive

The first instinct is to react. Ignore that instinct. 

Allow the person to finish what they're saying and then acknowledge the criticism and repeat it, putting it into your own words: So, what you're saying is, it wasn't clear to you why Diana was holding the man captive after he'd kidnapped her cat and set her apartment on fire?

Putting it in your own words helps you to make sense of it and allows the other person to clarify, if needed, what they meant. (And in my experience sometimes that clarification is necessary. A lot of people are really bad at saying what they actually mean.) It also gives you the opportunity to take some control over the conversation without leaping to the defensive.

Bonus! If the criticism is over something something ridiculous (hey, it happens), repeating it may shine a light on that and give you the peace of mind needed to move on.

Open a Dialogue

If, after you've remained calm and not gone on the defensive, you don't feel like talking about the criticism anymore, move directly to Step Four.

However, I know that sometimes I want to explain why I chose to do something. If nothing else, it helps me clarify points that might have been muddled in my writing and allows me to rethink my presentation. It might also open the floor for new ideas, that is, one of my critics might offer me a better suggestion for getting from point A to point B.

Say "Thank You"

How heart-felt that "thank you" is will, of course, be entirely up to you based on the kind of criticism you get. It might be as simple as a "Thanks for your time," if the criticism you've received indicates that the person read your story but - maybe - didn't put as much thought into it as they might have or simply isn't the kind of person to offer constructive advice.

If you do get some good critique, be sure the critic knows you value that (as you should).


This last step is key and deals with your response to yourself and your work.

Having your work critiqued is difficult. I think it might be particularly difficult for fiction writers because we often work in such isolation until we have something of a final product. We don't get to show off half completed drawings or the sketch before the paint goes on.

We work, alone in our rooms - or, at least, alone in our heads - making draft after draft (sometimes not even completing those first drafts because they're so awful) until we come up with something that - finally - we think we can present to the world at large. The culmination of our sweat, and our tears, the a.m. caffeine binges, the midnight chocolate runs, the showers interrupted by arguing characters or insistent plot lines.

So after you've put yourself out there and had your heart skewered, take the time to relax and step away. Don't beat yourself over the head with the critique. Let it settle for a day or even more. When you're refreshed and not feeling so raw, you can come back to the critique - and any notes you've taken - review the points again and determine your thoughts.

If you think the critique has some merit, make note of how much and which parts. If you think it has no merit? Set it aside. Let it go. 
Remember, while it's important to consider critical viewpoints, particularly viewpoints of people who might be similar to the audience you're writing for, when it comes down to it: you are the final arbiter of your work. It's your work and you need to be true to it and yourself.

And there we have it. The final piece in the Everybody's a Critic series. And it only took me two years to get to this point.... Hey, I was waylaid by higher education. But now that my M.S. degree is almost done, I'm hoping to put more time into this blog with fiction (including a continuation of The Work - if you like ghost stories, go check that out) and prompts and the occasional breakdown and discussion of various writing logistics.

Until next time.

No comments:

All images are copyright to their respective owners and used according to Creative Commons agreements.