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Taking it on the chin

Who’d be a critic? I’m not talking about the flesh-tearing but insecure ego-tripper as in Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December, but more somebody who assesses manuscripts and/or mentors writers.

Sending your baby out for review produces numbing fear in a writer; desperate for feedback, but scared the reviewer/assessor/critic will deem it a heap of crap. So when that envelope thuds on your doormat or that email pings in your inbox, it’s a moment of pure courage to open it. Over the shock and the flouncing about, what to do?

Think about this to get balance:

  • Reviewers/editors are generally acting with good intentions and good ones want to work with you to help you improve;
  • There are positive, encouraging comments in the report – you may have only concentrated on the negatives;
  • The criticism is about the work, not you personally.

So what can we do with the report?

  • Leave it alone for a couple of days;
  • Read it through thoroughly – make a copy and mark it up, sentence by sentence. Don’t dash off and change the manuscript at that moment, keep going through and mark it up: D (disagree); A (Agree); * action point; underline (Oh, how true!) and scribble all over it.

What do we learn?

  • Perhaps you didn’t get a particular point across well;
  • You may have been lazy by not showing rather than telling;
  • Was that piece of dialogue an indulgence?
  • Perhaps your protagonist is a tad boring;
  • Did you miss an opportunity to show reaction/emotion?
  • Perhaps that fab sunset or those rolling hills have nothing to do with the character or plot, but were something you are proud of (kill your darling alert);
  • Those things you know in your heart that are wrong have been exposed.

What is the result?

  • A note of strengths – check the good comments and be proud of them;
  • Weak points have been scooped up and dumped back on you to improve;
  • You’ve been made to think, not just the points under scrutiny, but the whole thing. You have been granted ferret-like awareness to root out other discrepancies. Profit from it;
  • You’ve been given a professional assessment, so be equally professional and listen and act on it.

You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t a little hurt by the negatives, but do you really want an assessment that says ‘You were wonderful, darling,’ when deep-down, you know you might not be 100% wonderful?

Coaches say that you should turn any set-back into an opportunity. I know I sound like Pollyanna, but it’s true. I firmly believe that while I may not agree with everything the reviewer says, I know that each time I undergo such a process, it sparks off a frenzy of brain activity. Sure, I see cringe-worthy mistakes, lapses and lacks but I discover I am writing at a higher level, my imagination brings out fresh insights.  I have developed the ability to slice through the dross and replace it clever plot turns and deeper characters. (Well, until next time 🙂 )

So, bon courage!

2 comments to Taking it on the chin

  • That’s a great sum up, Alison – particularly the importance of distance, of being willing to listen to hard truths BUT also being willing to say, “no. I don’t agree with that.”

    Good stuff.

  • alison

    Thanks, Anna. Although sometimes hard, I welcome all feedback. I like to talk it through and then make a decision, but the person making the comments should be as professional as the ‘commentee’.

    Yes, it is always the writer’s decision about whether to accept criticism or not. Especially hard when the advice is conflicting.