So you’ve had your nose to the grindstone, churned out a few drafts and are ready to show other people your life’s work. A lot of emotion is tied up in the lofty bundle of your pages as you hand your baby off to your beta readers, and finally the jitters start to ebb as they settle back to read it. But what are you gonna do when they’re ready to tell you what they thought?
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how to give constructive criticism for people who want to help the writers in their lives better themselves. But what about when you’re on the opposite side of that relationship and you’re the one getting criticized? Never fear; I’ve been there and I can guide you through it. These are some helpful tips on how to gracefully accept constructive criticism.
1. Thank the person criticizing you. Yes, no matter what they said. Constructive criticism takes time and effort. Even if theirs was not entirely helpful, constructive criticism, as mentioned in my last post, is a labor of love. I bought my last beta readers a big bottle of Scotch Whiskey. Why? Because they needed it after that 130k word monstrosity they read.
2. Do not rebut their observations or tastes. Why? These are opinions and opinions can never be wrong—you will fight a meaningless battle and possibly alienate your beta reader. You are allowed to disagree, but don’t fight. DO ask for specifics: what line, what paragraph, what chapter—get them to nail down as tightly as possible what they’re saying. You should—graciously—rebut their suggestions for improvement if they don’t work for you, as long as you explain why and ask for or suggest other alternatives. This generates a dialogue, shows that you do value their opinion, and lets them feel a part of the writing process.
3. Wait before either responding to the criticism or changing your work. You’re gonna be getting a lot of notes from a lot of different people. If you start a new round of edits after each beta reader, your novel will get worse, not better. Think about it–each of your readers has different thoughts, beliefs, cultures, and histories, as well as different tastes.
Instead wait until you get most of your reader’s feedback returned and look at it all together. What are some of the things they all mentioned? Look for issues that stand out across the board–that’ll tell you what really needs fixing and isn’t just somebody’s predilection. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with taking a suggestion from one guy who disagrees with the rest of the crowd, as long as it works for you.
Remember, YOU are the author and this book is your responsibility.
4.Know yourself and let yourself make mistakes. Are you ready to hear from other readers? Do you feel you’ll just die if somebody suggests your work isn’t already perfect? Then wait a long time. Do you feel you could handle the emotional upheaval if someone wiped themselves with your manuscript before handing it back? Then you need only wait a little bit. But either way, you’re not gonna want to rush out to find beta readers right after you finish your manuscript.
Also remember that your book has flaws and remind yourself it’s okay to make mistakes. A friend of mine is a librarian and she is constantly getting proof copies of new books that have major issues–and these are things which have supposedly been looked at by a professional EDITOR!
One technique I used to use to relieve pressure is to purposefully include one mistake. You know there will be more, but this this way you get to control how you show you’re human.
5. Remember these are not perfect people, no more than your manuscript is perfect. Some of the things your readers may be saying will not come out as tactfully as they plan or you hope, but keep this one thing in mind: YOU ASKED FOR IT. You need honest feedback to improve your work.
Imagine you’re in eighth grade, you’re going to style your hair yourself, and you lay on the mousse, gel, pomade, and whatever else you have, trying to look like your favorite movie star. You walk out the door and see your best friend. Now, would you prefer your friend tell you what you want to hear and let you walk to school and spend the day looking like a retarded caribou and thinking you’re hot shit? Or would you like them to be honest so you can go inside and rinse all that crap out of your hair?
Now… What do you think? Is there anything I’ve missed? Anything that’s helped you in dealing with criticism?
Leave a comment and let me know!