One of my (few) superpowers is taking criticism of my work in stride. I think this is a byproduct of my years in graduate school and, later, academia. In those worlds, receiving regular and blisteringly cruel assessments of your writing, ideas, and general existence is sort of par for the course. If you can’t take in the crushing and often mean-spirited negativity, parse it for the useful stuff, and then roll up your sleeves and eviscerate your writing to accommodate the demanded changes…well, you won’t last long (heck, even if you CAN do that, you might not last long. Academia is a blood sport).
Coming from this background, I found dealing with the stress of critiques relatively easy. After all, most people (assuming you’ve found a good writing group) are actually rooting for you rather than delighting in your failure. Their critiques, therefore, are meant to be helpful and are rarely mean-spirited. So right there we’ve got a big improvement. Also, as noted above, I’ve been preconditioned to expect my work will need improvement and that readers I ask to provide feedback will be critical.
Still, it can hurt. Even someone with Supergirl Teflon feelings is going to feel the pain of a harsh critique now and again.
How to deal with it? We all have our own processes. When I get a critique that’s tougher than I expected, I find I go through several clearly defined stages:
First: 2-4 hours of disappointment. Man, I loved this story. I thought this was the ONE that everyone was going to think was great. I really thought I wasn’t going to have to make very many revisions. Sigh. *eats chocolate*
Second: 1-2 hours of indignation. *addresses the cat* Why am I letting this bum me out so much? Reader X obviously didn’t see what I was trying to do. *shakes fist at the heavens* What do they know, anyway?
Third: 3-4 hours to accept harsh reality. Yup. Reader X was right – at least about some things. Especially THIS. This IS a big problem. Why didn’t I see it when I was writing? After all, I was trying to fix that very problem in this draft and I obviously failed. Will I never get any better at this???
Fourth: 12-14 hours of rumination. Okay. This isn’t THAT big of a problem. Actually, I can fix it pretty easily by doing X, Y, and Z. Plus, this will make the characterizations stronger and the narrative less clunky. *tosses and turns all night while rewriting things in her head*
At this point I usually achieve clarity about what to do, regain my enthusiasm, and start revising. This process varies in its intensity (and sometimes the duration of the stages) depending on how polished the story was (or I perceived it to be) and how dear to my heart it is. Sometimes I know the piece is flawed (and in what ways) and so do not experience the first or second stages at all.
Even though receiving critiques can hurt and the process of dealing with them makes you feel like a crazy person who spends all her time having conversations in her head (or worse, with her cat), I almost always learn something valuable. In most cases, it doesn’t just improve the particular piece I’ve had critiqued, but carries over to future projects – I become more aware of my strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to accent the former and improve upon the latter.
So, that’s my process for dealing with critique. What’s yours?