Tips for Taking a Critique

The toughest part of creating something and releasing it to an audience is dealing with the audience’s reaction to it. It’s easy to imagine that we are going to be The Best Creator Ever and that nothing we do is every going to mess up, but it never works out that way; there’s always something we can do better. The last thing we want to do is to scare away the people who have valid points to address; it’s their corrections that will make us even better! So what can we do when receiving a critique to get the best results out of it and not lose our critics?

The first thing to remember is, unless you’ve managed to acquire metaphorical rhino-hide, and sometimes even then, it’s going to sting a little. That happens. Don’t decide that you shouldn’t hurt, and don’t decide that the fact that you hurt means that you yourself are under attack; both of these things are counterproductive. Instead, recognize it internally, then quash not the feeling, but all those little temptations to jump up and justify yourself or to just give up entirely because you feel you’ll never be good enough. Neither temptation is good for your writing, and neither will make you feel better in the long run. Just let yourself be.

Bear in mind that unless the critics are explicitly saying that your work is bad and you should feel bad, or that you yourself are a bad person, that’s probably not what they’re trying to get across. As I’ve posted before, a lot of people who take the time to pick a piece of work apart are doing so because it matters to them; because they think it’s awesome and want to see it at its absolute best; because they want other people to like it and are worried that this, that and the other is going to get in the way. (This happens with me a lot, actually—if it’s worth reading, it’s worth dissecting. If left without other people’s work to pick apart, I start in on my own.) Note also that unless you have very strong evidence, it is a bad idea to assume the critics are finding holes in your work for the sole purpose of hurting you.

One of the big things you have to keep in mind is that most of the time, if you’ve asked somebody to take a look at your work, the answers they give you are in some way going to be true. In fact, you should assume that the only time your critics are not speaking truth to you is when the only thing they do is praise you to the heavens. Similarly, never ever assume that they don’t know at all what they’re talking about, particularly not if that’s mostly a way to just blow off their opinions and especially not if your justification for this conclusion is “because they’re [Group] and [members of Group] can’t possibly know about something like this.” The more subjective your field is, the more important this is.

And of course, if you have any reason to believe that they were critiquing you in good faith, make sure you say thank you! Proposing improvements to people’s work may not be as exposed a position as putting the work out to be improved on, but it’s a difficult position as well; people do a lot better when they know you appreciate it.

In short—take a deep breath, don’t let defensiveness get the better of you, and consider the truth of any suggested improvements. It will make your response, and your finished product, a lot better.

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