How to take critiques

We’ve talked about receiving bad advice before. And sometimes, recognizing bad advice is as easy as reading it, like when I received a suggestion that would kill all the tension in a story—or kill the murderer in the opening scene.

But not all advice we have an adverse reaction to is bad. Sometimes it just hurts us on an emotional level, and we react from that place instead of really listening to the ideas in the critique.

Rick Daley, who runs the Public Query Slushpile, offered this advice on receiving critiques:

Rule # 1: Don’t pout if you hear something negative. Remember that you asked for the feedback in the first place. Don’t get defensive and don’t argue.

What’s the best thing to do if the advice hurts? Do. Not. Engage. If you respond emotionally to something a critique partner said analytically, first of all, the CP’s entire frame of reference is off. This can escalate very quickly into emotional and even personal attacks—when really, your CP (probably) wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. (This assumes your CP wasn’t unnecessarily harsh or otherwise insane critique partner.)

If you find the critique painful, simply thank your critique partner and put the critique away for a while—however long it takes to take the edge off, and then some. (It might also be a good idea to take a step back from your work for a while, too, if you’re still that emotionally invested. Critique partners are only the first of many people who will respond to your work!)

Critiques can be a good way to work on developing that “thick skin” that you’ll need when you face rejection after rejection, endless rounds of editorial revisions, or harsh reviews.

Of course, just because some feedback hurts doesn’t automatically mean you should follow it. Immediately changing your work based on one person’s opinion is another knee-jerk reaction that may not be helpful either. We’ll look at how to determine whether to follow hard advice tomorrow.

What do you think? What do you do when a critique hurts?

Photo by Paul Iddon

3 thoughts on “How to take critiques”

  1. My problem last night was that I laid down an awfully harsh critique on an old lady. I felt bad afterwards. I talked with some people and maybe the thing I could have done is focused on one area of improvement for her instead of piling on.
    I think the other issue was that the woman argued a bit about it, which goes to your advice about Do Not Engage.
    Basically if you engage, you’re inviting the critiquer to go off on your work…so don’t. πŸ˜‰

    1. And then it gets ugly, LOL. But seriously, when someone responds from an emotional place—when s/he gets defensive—then the other person gets defensive. Then somebody lashes out . . . it gets ugly real quick.

  2. I love the suggestion to put the critique for a while. I’ve noticed when something burns at first, it really does cool down later on and I can fix the issue with an even head. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the reminder.

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