It never fails. Whenever my husband reads a draft of my novel, he has comments and questions. And somehow in our discussion (either while he is explaining what he doesn’t understand, or I am questioning him to better understand his point of view) our communication breaks down. One of us gets defensive…and I will admit that often that is me.
After thinking about it…I have decided that part of the reason is that I take his comments as criticism of my writing. He doesn’t understand a plot point or can’t see the scene that I can see so clearly in my mind. And often he is correct that I need to make a change because if he doesn’t get it, I can’t expect every other reader to either.
So while the process does improve my novel, it is a bit stressful for both of us. That gave me the idea of writing a blog about accepting criticism, whether it is from a beta reader or a book reviewer.
TIPS for handling critiques
Stay Calm – It is natural to feel defensive but that won’t help the situation. Keep in mind that we can always improve. Take deep breaths and just listen.
Don’t take it personally – Take more deep breaths and remember it isn’t necessarily an attack on you. (Though I know there are some reviews out there that will come across as a direct attack on you. Remember you can’t please everyone.) Someone can criticize your novel without saying you are not a great writer. They may simply see flaws in what you wrote, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on you overall.
Give yourself time to cool off – I much prefer reading my husband’s comments and then later discussing with him. It gives me time to process what he is saying and reflect on it before we discuss them. But when that doesn’t happen, sometimes I react poorly. I assume he is attacking my skill as a writer. So instead of asking questions or responding, I need to take time to step back and reflect (or cool off). Hopefully, this will allow me a different perspective.
Remember the goal is to improve – Remember that many of these comments can be an opportunity to step back, evaluate your writing and find ways to improve. When you look at criticism this way, you may have an easier time receiving it. Never give up on trying to be a better writer.
Evaluate what is being said – And of course, there are cases where the criticism is unjust or just mean. In this case, any “advice” is not helpful and is best ignored. To help you pose these questions when you receive hurtful criticism.
Were the comments something you can control?
Does the critical person’s opinion really matter to you?
In the case of receiving feedback in the form of a review, it is often tempting to respond, justify or correct the person. DON’T DO IT! No matter what a reviewer says that is negative, do not respond.
When dealing with a beta reader, it often is best not to respond to their comments either. Simply evaluate whether their suggestion will improve your book. If it will, then make your changes. If not, ignore their comments and move on. Don’t give into your temptation to argue. Keep your knee-jerk reaction to yourself and be professional. “That’s a good point. I’ll take it into consideration.”
Remember your goal with beta readers is to improve your novel. (Book reviewers can help you improve your writing on future work.) You cannot improve without constructive criticism. Having something to fix doesn’t mean you are a bad writer or that your book isn’t worth publishing. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice you get but do take the time to evaluate if the suggestion will improve your book or writing.
And last of all, when dealing with criticism. Remember: it isn’t about you; it is about your book. They are not the same.