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killersquid

Dealing with feedback

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Hello all, 

With permission from @silk I thought it would be a good idea to start a thread on how to deal with feedback. 

This means two things;

-How to implement it into your writing 

-How to mentally deal with it. 

 

Particularly the second one I've been having issues with, and would appreciate a discussion about. 

I've only posted twice and gotten feedback both times that was very useful and not in any way malicious or rude. Yet instead of encouraging me to continue writing, it brings me down and makes it very hard to pick up the pen.

Anyone else deal with similar issues? 

 Feel free to also discuss how to implement feedback,  but I  can't comment on that much since I've only done it once.

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Posted (edited)

10 hours ago, killersquid said:

Anyone else deal with similar issues?

Yes. I certainly have done in the past, and I agree it can be challenging to receive critiques, and difficult to decide how to them. I think starting this thread was an excellent idea, KS, and I applaud you for doing it. It's something we've dealt with before as a group, but having as a dedicated thread makes a lot of sense, I think.

Some points, as they occur to me:

(1) - Critique is opinion: I think the first thing to remember is that the views one receives on a piece are always the opinion of the critiquer (I know, not a word, but I don't think 'critic' carries the right connotations here). The opinions one receives might be wrong, or the issues might be right, but the assessment of it unhelpful. I think the thing to concentrate on is when a number of people raise the same issue. I think that's a clear sign to a writer that numerous people are finding this or that aspect problematic;

(2) - Making revisions: My approach to this, for what it's worth--particularly if I struggle to accept what a majority of people are saying--is to make a small change, rather than a sweeping change. Now, that might not be possible if the comment is something like 'This whole character is unconvincing'. That's a root and branch thing where changes would have to run through a whole book, probably, but those changes don't need to be massive. If I got a comment that a character's inner voice was unconvincing or not interesting, I might try to add a single pithy or subtle comment on each page, maybe only a few words, just to elevate the voice, without ripping the whole novel apart. There will always be another edit. Books take many edits to reach a point where they in a state to be submitted to an agent or publisher;

(3) - Motivation: I have struggled with this on occasion, and I've been on here for almost seven years. And I don't mean I've struggled with this seven years ago. I've submitted material that I thought was really pretty good, and received some downbeat reviews, a majority of people highlighting problems that I did not see, leaving me quite depressed about my work, recognising that they were right and not knowing what to do about it. There have been a couple of occasions where I have walked away from the forum for a spell (maybe a week or two), because I did not want to face the problems with the project, and felt hard done by, even resentful. This leads me onto...

(4) - The Group: Having been here for seven years, the long-term members of the group know each other pretty darn well. We have met in person, we converse off forum, we have been reading each other's work for a long time, and we have learned in that time how to take critique. Some members come and go, but there has always been a strong group of committed writers--of 'all' levels progress in the industry--who are committed to their own writing and committed to helping others improve. I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that we have had problem members, whose critiques have had something of an agenda to them, and they do not last long. So, you can always expect an honest, straight-up opinion about your work. These opinions, I strong believe, always come from a place of honesty, support, and commitment to the quality the work and to helping writers improve.

(5) - Writing: It's hard, it's difficult, it's challenging, and--unlike what a lot of people on the outside might think--it is not a solitary occupation. I believe that anyone who thinks they can write in a microcosm and produce an excellent, balanced, appealing novel that can be tweaked a bit then typeset and published is most certainly not being realistic. For one thing, it takes a lot of practice to hone the skills and insight and voice to produce work that might be considered for publication, maybe, after it's been submitted and edited and resubmitted again, and again. I'm not published. I'm still working on that (time is still a massive challenge for me), but I strongly believe I am in a massively supportive and positive and encouraging place that will help me to make that happen.

(6) - Improvement: Subbing to a group like, as honest and encouraging (which I think it is) as this, can be a reality check for some folks. I think it is absolutely necessary to take in advice from other sources, like Reading Excuses podcast, of course; or one like the Death of 1,000 Cuts podcast (which I like), or Dave Wolverton's writing newsletter (he taught creative writing to Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells). Many others are available. I think beginning writers (certainly me, anyway, back in the day), maybe tend towards thinking they are better than they are, through no fault of their own, because they have not been exposed to the writing community, to the feedback, and to more experienced writers who have published (like Kais, Mandamon and Shattered Smooth in this instance). Impartial, external advice is so important for any writer to improve.

(7) - Thinking as well as writing: This is something I am terrible at. I get the spark of an idea, flesh it out a bit and dive in, to the novel, the chapter, whatever it happens to be. I am trying much more now to think about what I am trying to achieve by writing something. Okay, it will fill a particular space in genre or in the stuff I have 'finished' (i.e. got the end of and now in hiatus awaiting the next edit), but what is the purpose of me writing something? Is it to improve on a particular weakness in my skills, am I aiming at a particular market, or submission or competition? I think most beginning writers set out, whether they realise it or not, on some level just to see if they can do it, i.e. complete a novel...

(8) - Finish it: ...but, sometimes, I think maybe beginning writers don't have the skills or experience or commitment to get through that first novel. We've certainly seen dozens come and go. In my time here there have been circa 115-120 authors come through the group, but there are probably only maybe 10 active at present. I think it's important to recognise that writing is a skill, as well as a calling / passion / need, and that commitment to writing means recognising that we might not be good enough at the start to write a best-seller out of the blocks, and that our first novel is likely not to be particularly groundbreaking, or even well written, but that the important thing is to finish it, learn how to do that, then move on to the next one, which will be better--guaranteed--because of the wealth of learning involved in finishing the first one.

(8) - Writers write: It's rather a cliché but, like most clichés, that's because it's true. I think what the phrase also means is that writers keep writing, even though it's hard and they have doubts about the quality, logic, whatever, of what they are writing, but because they need to finish what they are writing. Maybe they come back to it to edit, or even finish it, but they keep going, keep writing, move on to something different, more challenging in order to learn different skills, but they keep going.

So, sorry about that outpouring of... whatever that was. I really hope it does not come across as pompous, or opinionated. It is 100% not supposed to be that, and that's not where it came from. It was meant to be encouraging, and I hope some of it is. Goodness knows I'm not the world's gift to anything, but I've been working at this writing lark for about 35 years (not constantly, and not always hard), so I like to think I've got some experience to share, of one particular journey at least. I don't really have a claim to fame, but just for context on the above rambling, I've written 6 novels; 13 short stories; 2 novellas; and 3 novelettes, and I'm still trying, still planning. Last year, one of my shorts was long-listed for the James White Award, administered by the British Science Fiction Society and it still feels like my crowning achievement.

I really hope to continue to read your stuff. I am always concerned that I am not sufficiently positive when I'm critiquing, I admit that. I tend to home in on detail, and maybe not say enough about big picture, but there are others on here who are better at that than I am, and that's what makes us a strong group, I think. I liked a lot about your submission. I didn't see how much it improved from the first version, but plenty of people said it was a good improvement, and I trust their opinions implicitly. I have heard numerous agents say that it's vital to edit things until you don't think you can make it any better. I know for me personally that would be five, six, seven edits, whatever, probably after different feedback each time. My current project, TCC, has been through this group three times. The first time it was only the first chapter, then the first 8 or 9. Now it's going to go all the way though (the novel wasn't finished when I subbed the first chapter, or the first 9 chapters). Next, I hope to get an alpha read of the whole thing. Then I'll edit again.

What I'm saying in my looooong-winded way is that we are here to support you and will be happy to openly discuss not just the details in feedback, but the wider issues of dealing with feedback, improving skills and the piece itself, and anything else that comes along the writing journey. I for one would be very happy to have an extended conversation about dealing with feedback. 

So, thanks again for raising this, I think it can be really positive and useful discussion for all of us.

Very best wishes, Robinski

 

p.s. I thought some inspirational quotes might be in order.

 

"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."
--William Faulkner

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
--Thomas MannEssays of Three Decades

"Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly."
--Franz Kafka

"Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing."
― Norman Mailer

"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
 -- Elmore Leonard

Edited by Robinski
Typos corrected!
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To add a (very short) addendum to @Robinski's (very long and well thought-out) post:

I usually have at least 30-40% of the thing I'm writing done before I submit something here. That way I can submit something I wrote a while ago so I'm not as attached to it. Then, I keep writing while fielding brief comments on the critiques I get. I usually don't apply any of the feedback until I'm completely through the book (or whatever I'm writing). That way, the critiques have a time to settle in my mind and I can ponder any particularly harsh (but usually accurate) feedback so my subconscious figures out how to apply it.

One other important note, which Robinksi mentioned, but I'll reiterate: You do NOT have to apply all feedback you get. A lot of times readers will see the symptom of what is wrong, but not the cause. Only you know the full story, so it may only take a sentence change here and there to adjust an entire character's outlook, for example.

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Posted (edited)

On 3/23/2020 at 2:40 AM, killersquid said:

Yet instead of encouraging me to continue writing, it brings me down and makes it very hard to pick up the pen.

Anyone else deal with similar issues? 

When I was new, I read books and articles about the craft of writing. I'd do writing exercises. But I felt like I hardly learned anything from it. In theory, I knew what I needed to do, but then I would write and it wouldn't actually  happen. However, when I started getting feedback from other people, then I figured out how to implement the things I could learned and wrote better stories. 

I think of writing as a long process. The first draft is for me. I can do whatever I want, and no one ever sees that draft. I've heard some people refer to this as draft 0 or a zero draft or something, but I don't like calling it that. 

The second draft I revise based on what I know about story telling from reading and research. That is the draft I let people see. That is the draft that gets torn to pieces. I'm okay with that, because the final version I'm working towards isn't for me. It's for readers.

When I write, I do so assuming that a lot of what I write is going to get moved into my file of misfit lines and replaced with new content. I assume certain things aren't going to make sense to people. I assume that I might start and end in the wrong place, that things I love might bore other people.

For me, feedback and revision are the most important part of the writing process. Being told I've done something wrong doesn't mean I'm a bad writer. It's just a necessary part of the journey from a messy first draft to a polished story people will enjoy reading. 

When I was new, I did find it very overwhelming with longer works. Starting with flash fiction and then working my way up to short stories made the process more bearable. 

As far as actually implementing it goes, it took me a few months to figure out a good way to do that with feedback in the format I get it from this group. I copy it all into one word document and print it out. Then I take colored pens and write all over it. If someone says something I don't like or that makes me mad, I can write snarky things near their comment and they'll never see it and I'll feel better. I circle or underline the changes I need to make, cross out the ones i'm rejecting, and put question marks next to the ones I'm uncertain about. 

Next, I make a list. 

Then I save my original document as a new file and start making the changes, checking things off of the list and the circled comments as I go. 

Edited by shatteredsmooth
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17 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

I can write snarky things near their comment and they'll never see it and I'll feel better.

:lol:  This is so cool!! I feel like I deserve a healthy doze of those snarky comments ;) 

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4 hours ago, Robinski said:

:lol:  This is so cool!! I feel like I deserve a healthy doze of those snarky comments ;) 

LOL

No, I think the people who got the  most secret snarky replies aren't actively posting in the group right now. 

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4 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

LOL

No, I think the people who got the  most secret snarky replies aren't actively posting in the group right now. 

Right. I must try harder next time!! :D 

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Sorry I'm late getting to this! I forum when I have downtime at work; I'm not at work, so is it possible for me to visit the forum? Anyway, this is a really great question and the responses have been really great too. Here's my bit, hope it helps!

Dealing with critique is a tough issue for everyone! It's a learned skill, and not one that gets taught or explained through normal, traditional channels (just like giving critique, for that matter). Just because someone has been giving crits for a while doesn't make them either good at it, or good at being on the receiving end of criticism, either! I'm definitely still working on both myself.  

There are a lot of online resources and advice for this issue, but most resources seem to boil down to a couple basic points, namely: 

  1. Don't take it personally
  2. Don't talk back
  3. Don't reply immediately
  4. Say thank you

And those are very good, fundamental things to keep in mind! They can be incredibly difficult to put into practice, though. 

 

Don't take it personally 

1. For this, it's important to remember that critiquers are talking about the work, not the author, even when the critiquers phrase what they're saying terribly. Reading and reacting to a work critically is a skill, phrasing things diplomatically so as not to hurt others is a skill, articulating one's reactions coherently is a skill, and most importantly, combining all of these things together in a way that makes sense to someone else is a skill. Not everyone critiquing a work is an expert in all four of these skills. We all of us tend to think we're better at these skills than we are in reality, and we all have off days when we just don't have the mental bandwidth to spend on making our raw opinions nice (or even realizing low-bandwidth days are not the days to post, lol). The critiquer probably did not mean to disparage your beloved pet and intimate you couldn't write your way out of a wet paper bag. Probably. Some people do have agendas. If they stick to their guns after a polite request for clarification, those crits can go in the round file.  Nobody in a crit group's signed up to be someone else's punching bag. An author does not owe a critiquer their pain. 

2. Critiques are like [certain body parts], everyone has them, they all stink. Critiques are opinions of individuals. Opinions don't have a fixed value. You can't go to the store and compare prices on opinions. You can't trade standardized opinions on any market.  They are worth exactly as much as you want to pay for them, in emotions or stress or whatever else. This is a good place to remember the limitations of your critiquers and critique groups. Everyone has their favorite genres, their comfort zones, and their subjects on which they are deeply read. This group has a fairly narrow range of genres, narrator types, voices, etc. that it is comfortable with. When critiques come in that feel out of left field or unduly hurtful to the author, it might just be a comfort/format mismatch. It might not be, either. Sometimes a work that's "in the zone" for a group can engender just an overwhelming amount of feedback, too.  

3. This is a good time to remember that individual data points can look stupid and weird, but an aggregate of data can show a valuable trend or conclusion. I tend to take the critiques I get here, find the 2 or 3 major themes of each person's crit, distill each of those down into one short 4- or 5-word sentence and then mentally count up how many people say things that can fit under each theme sentence. Three is my randomly-decided take-notice number. Less than three crits talk about a theme, I might not worry about so much. More than three, I'll tend to give that one more weight. Distilling crits down into my own words and abstracting them into something extremely basic and general takes some of the sting out of the individual responses. This is what some of the others have said, too. Putting things in your own words can help you process what's being said.

 

Don't talk back/don't reply immediately

1. Almost everyone's initial, gut reaction to hearing something that can boil down to "ur doin it rong" is defensive. Anger, avoidance, defensiveness, depression, aggression, those are all natural, valid reactions critique! Those are real feelings, and important feelings. Replying when you're feeling those things the strongest is also a natural response. It's the one you need to sit on, though. Doing just about anything from the heat of anger is not a good idea, and interpreting critique is no different. It's better to wait until the hurt has healed a little, and then look with an eye to use what is said. This is also a learned skill that not everyone has a lot of experience with. It's also one we all tend to think we're better at than we really are. If you think you're clarifying and it turns out you're speaking from anger, hurt, defensiveness, etc, well, that's a thing that happens, too. Nobody's perfect with this. Apologies are important in these cases.

2. So what can you do with these initial reactions? Keep them out of the crit forum, obviously, but nobody said you have to keep them to yourself. Non-crit-member friends are GREAT for crit-related ranting. Talk to non-crit friends, vent your spleen, write snarky comments like @shatteredsmooth said, be as wrathful in private, away from anywhere it could come up to a critiquer, as you need to be. It's certainly what I do. Humans in general benefit from talking about their feelings to people, being as social an animal as they are. Once the worst of it's out of your system, come back to the forum. Exercise, violent video games, cleaning, meditation, there're a ton of things people use to dissipate stress, and critiques are legitimately stressful. Get that stress reaction out of the way before you even come back to collate your crits, much less rewrite based on them. You don't have to do it all at once, either. Repeat stress reduction options as often as needed! 

3. Others have replied with how they collect crits and then put them away for later. This gives the initial emotions a chance to dissipate. The urge to fix it and come back is strong, but unless you're on a strict deadline, there's no real reason to do it quickly. This forum has a culture of authors reacting to their critiques, and reacting very quickly, but it's neither necessary nor required. A lot of in-person groups and many other online ones don't allow authors to talk at all, and some only allow one or two clarifying questions. We're pretty unusual here in that regard. 

 

Saying "thank you"

1.  That leads to the last part, saying thank you. Evern the crappiest critiquer is still a human, and still spent possibly a lot of time on that crappy, awful critique. Even the crappiest critiquer is still a human who needs an attaboy to feel worthwhile, too. Thank them for their time and effort, even if you can't thank them for the substance of their critique (don't tell them that's what you're thanking them for, just say thanks. Telling them "thank you, you're useless" is A-1, top-tier jerk behavior). They read your stuff (even if they so completely missed the point you wonder how they managed to survive elementary school reading classes. They still read it). They didn't have to. Nobody here is required to read your stuff, or read it and give a crit. That's worth at least a little gratitude. Giving thanks is social lube to keep things going smoothly and to keep everyone feeling like they matter. People who feel like they matter are more likely to learn how to do better critiques. I personally think that's where this forum's culture of detailed author responses to critique evolved from.  Authors are under no obligation to provide feedback or extra praise to the critiquer, however, even if that's the culture here, and there can be a decent amount of pressure to do that. A thank you conveys that you see the crit, and you appreciate it. That's all that're really required. Sometimes, in other groups, that's all an author is allowed to do. 

 

Applying crits to a rewrite and making yourself do a rewrite at all

There are just as many online guides for applying crit in rewrites, but I've not found as much I can synthesize into some general recommendations. So I'll talk about how I talk myself up to redoing things.

 

1. Time. You don't have to start a rewrite immediately. You don't have to start a rewrite in a "reasonable" amount of time. I've gone years between rewrites because I just wasn't ready to face it. I'm not under contract, I don't owe that rewrite to anyone: I can take my time to mentally prepare myself for what is a legitimately difficult procedure, especially for a beginner. Forum regulars here have a fast turnover. That's them, and their work process. Everyone is different. I'm no less of a writer or less worthy for working slowly. 

2. Spite.  I have a really rather horrible and traumatic "traditional" art/art crtique background. I am well-placed to be an artist in the electricity-free zombie apocalypse or time traveling back to the Enlightenment; I am not well-trained in not overreacting to critique. So, I use spite in my rewrites: "Oh, you think this? Well, I'll give you THAT, I'll give you so much of that you'll see how wrong you are! You'll rue the day you said that crit to me!" This is not usually a good rewrite, but by doing it, I accept that I have these emotions, get them out of my system in a hopefully productive manner, and get myself into the mindset of changing the thing I wrote. Then by combining pieces of the spite-write back with the original, I can end up with something that's hopefully better than either of the things I started with. (Nobody sees the spite-write. it's not good. lol)

3. Nondestructive edits. I tell myself that I can save the original. I can always go back to it. Save it off in its own file. That one's mine, the version of my heart. I can make a copy so easily in this modern digital age, there's nothing preventing me from trying some of these suggested edits. It's not the real version, just a copy. I can always go back later if I don't like it. I can always go back. 

4. The error message only generates where the code fails; the problem might be in a completely different function. AKA the opinions are wrong, but the sentiment has merit. So, if I don't like the critique I've gotten, after I've gotten the spite and the complaining out of me, I will go back and try to backwards engineer where the failure happened. I try to think of it almost like a computer programming issue. The result was this crit I don't like. So, what went awry prior to the point the critter mentioned to cause that error? What can I change, that's not the thing the critter wants changed (spite again, lol), but that nonetheless fixes the critter's underlying issues? I'll try that, usually in a completely different file from both the spite-write and the original-of-my-heart, then try a combo of all 3 versions.

5. I'm the author. Me. In the end, the author is the only one who can say what is and is not working in a piece. Sometimes, a rewrite just involves deciding not to use the critiques you've gotten so far. Only you can decide. Deciding the crit is wrong because the change is hard is not the way, however. This, like everything else, is a balancing act.  

 

Here are some of the articles and pieces I used writing this:

 

And a couple about tackling a rewrite:

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Posted (edited)

First of all, you have my respect. Many people would have taken the doubts that you have, let themselves become overwhelmed, and disappeared. Instead, you reached out to Silk and you created this thread. I wish every single one of my students knew how to reach out for advice, just like you have, rather than struggling in silence, or worse, giving up. 

Everyone so far has written better advice on critiques than I can. So instead, I'm going to broach a topic that I think each of these responses touch on, but that is worthwhile to explore a little further.

Perseverance. 

This is a key trait for anyone in any profession to develop because motivation can only get you started. Perseverance and discipline will carry you much farther than any other trait you can possibly imagine. The ability to get hit and choose to get up again, time after time after time. Because, frankly, you are going to get hit a lot in writing. Some punches will come from others: critiques, rejection letters, bad reviews. Others will come from the world: financial difficulties, struggling to find time, pandemics. Many will come from you: self-doubt, fear, hatred. These punches are going to come, and you'll have to learn how to roll with them, to dodge the ones that aren't important and aren't worth your time, and absorb the ones that you need to learn from. Then, once you've been hit, you'll have to learn the strength to persevere, to stay on your feet and keep fighting. 

Confucius said that, "It does not matter how slowly you get there, as long as you do not stop." Take that to heart. Even if it is the smallest step forward each day, each week, each month, take that step. There is this webcomic called The Art of Being an Artist, and I particularly like his message in Brick by Brickhttps://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/the-art-of-being-an-artist/brick-by-brick/viewer?title_no=340626&episode_no=2 and Be Friends with Failurehttps://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/the-art-of-being-an-artist/be-friends-with-failure/viewer?title_no=340626&episode_no=12 These are simple comics with an important lesson: to look at the opportunities failure can give you, and how to keep going, brick by brick, step by step. 

Everyone learns perseverance differently. I still am. I found success by recording my progress on Google Spreadsheets, step by step, so that I can see just how much I've achieved, even when I don't know how I can keep going forward. I keep everything I've ever written, I keep track of my word count progress, the books I have read, the podcasts I have listened to. 

Now, I hope I can offer one piece of solace: writing is a profession with no age limit. This is not a sport where you have to reach the big wigs by the time you're 30 or your body is shot. Anyone can be a writer, whether you are twelve (like Nancy Yi Fan) or forty-one (the age of Mark Twain when he published his first book) or even older. So don't feel like you are under a time crunch. No one is expecting you, or me, or any other writer on this forum, to become someone like Brandon Sanderson overnight. I don't know if you know this, but Brandon wasn't an overnight success either. He worked a nightshift at a hotel to find time to write and wrote something like a dozen books before getting published. That's perseverance. Dan Wells, author of the John Cleaver series and podcaster with Brandon, wrote at night because he had a full time job and children. That's discipline. 

Writing isn't a sprint, it's an endurance race. Learn everything you can here, and then take the next step. And the step after that. And so on and so forth.

Don't give up, ever. 

Writing Excuses on Perseverance: https://writingexcuses.com/2011/03/06/writing-excuses-5-27-perseverance/

Edited by Snakenaps
Had more to say :/
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Haven't actually subbed or commented on here in a while, but hopefully I should be able to get back into it, at least for a few weeks with all the extra free time. Anyway, my two cents that I'm going to throw in here is going to be different from everyone else's two cents, and also something I suspect won't really be applicable for everyone. But, on the off chance that it is applicable for you, well that's why I'm throwing it out there.

I analyze and break down the criticism that I get into as many individual pieces and comments as I possibly can. A comment detailing that a particular section was written poorly will get broken down twice - the first is I'll compare that section which was criticized to a similar section which wasn't criticized and acknowledge that the non-criticized section received the equivalent of a complement. That's the first breakdown - realizing that which isn't critiqued was done better than that which was. Then I run through those scenes and I figure out why they worked better, or worked at all.

The second breakdown is that I'll run the critique through the section - let's say a certain character's dialogue was flat, and this was pointed out to me. Now, the person giving the critique doesn't know why the dialogue was written flat, because they don't know the intent behind the writing. But I do. Occasionally, I'll try to write a scene with an X subtext and fail miserably, but I'll get a critique that just points out the scene as a whole doesn't work. The reason that the scene doesn't work isn't because the baseline of the scene is wrong - it's because I implemented something poorly, but that's something I know as the writer because I know the intent of the work. Someone giving critique doesn't.

Then, once I get to the heart of the criticism, I address it directly. It's not easy to lose a new skill, and you need to fail a lot. But, sometimes, you haven't failed as bad as you think or sometimes, someone else misdirected a bit. This is addressing it directly - I see whether or not I agree with the critique (spoiler alert: very rarely do I completely disregard critiques, so a partial disregard is only moderately rare), and if I do agree with it, I accept the failing and use it to do better next time, or I'll go back and rewrite the piece, keeping in mind the comments.

Also, @Robinski's inspirational quotes are ... interesting, to say the least. I suppose that I'll toss in my favorite inspirational writing quote here:

"I write for the same reason I breathe — because if I didn’t, I would die." - Isaac Asimov.

I've gotten down on critiques countless times, I've had close friends read things I've written and tell me (well-meaning, of course) to quit then and there, I've hit writer's blocks, snags, and I lost a good year and a half of writing notes on various projects when my hard drive crashed on me (true story!), but ultimately, I love the act of telling a story, so I can't stay away from writing. No matter what kind of setback I hit, give me a month or two, and I'll be back on a keyboard, typing up some other story.

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20 hours ago, aeromancer said:

I've had close friends read things I've written and tell me (well-meaning, of course) to quit then and there

Ouch! Glad you're still here :) 

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Posted (edited)

Of course I'm saying something that we already know, but sometimes it helps to validate the things that seem like they should be obvious. So: Receiving critiques is hard. Implementing feedback from critiques is hard. You're certainly not wrong to struggle with either.  That said, figuring out how to do it better is a hugely important first step, and it's a step that not everyone takes. So, in all seriousness, good for you for opening up the discussion to begin with.

A few things to keep in mind that have already been mentioned by others, but I'll say them again because they're pretty fundamental to being able to deal with critiques: 

1. The comments are critiquing the work, not you. It can be a big and difficult shift to separate yourself from your work, but remember it's the words on the page that people are commenting on, not on your value or your worth as a writer.

2. The fact that you're getting comments on how to improve your work is expected. It's literally why you're here! There's a reason we call our submissions drafts. Give yourself permission to write work that is unfinished and imperfect. Give yourself permission to submit work that is unfinished and imperfect. Even when you're happy with what you've come out with, remind yourself when you're writing and when you're submitting that it's a work-in-progress. This might help make it easier to take the comments as just another part of the process, since it wasn't a finished piece of work to begin with.

3. Critiques are, at the end of the day, opinions. They're information on how that person is experiencing your story right now. They're not some sort of authoritative judgement on your work. The person may be completely off the mark, or they may just not be the audience for your work. This is a balancing act, because of course we want to learn from people's critiques as much as possible, but sometimes you can make the mental space you need to take someone's critique to heart by reminding yourself that hey, it's just an opinion.

That said, that's all kind of abstract, and making that sort of mindset shift is easier said than done. So... 

On 3/24/2020 at 8:36 AM, shatteredsmooth said:

If someone says something I don't like or that makes me mad, I can write snarky things near their comment and they'll never see it and I'll feel better.

I really like this, because it's something concrete that you could try to maybe take the edge off. Another tack you could try would be to wait for a week after you submit something, or submit it and wait for a week (or two weeks, or until you've written the next chapter, or whatever it is that works for you) to give yourself some mental distance. A third option might be to do an initial skim of people's comments really quickly, to get a general idea of what you're in for, so to speak, and then come back in a few hours or a few days when you feel like you're braced for what people are saying.

As for implementing feedback, this is part of the revision and editing process, and one of the things that people often don't realize is that writing and editing are separate (although related, obviously) skill sets. So, it's totally natural to feel much more comfortable with writing than editing (or the other way around).

On 3/23/2020 at 4:39 AM, Mandamon said:

You do NOT have to apply all feedback you get. A lot of times readers will see the symptom of what is wrong, but not the cause. Only you know the full story, so it may only take a sentence change here and there to adjust an entire character's outlook, for example.

This is really important. It's why we typically encourage our members to be descriptive in their critiques rather than prescriptive. You, as the author, have the vision for the story. When responding to feedback, your job is to figure out why readers had the experience they did, and how to make that experience smoother that still achieves the objectives you want for your piece, as @aeromancer alluded to.

Folks are throwing out some good suggestions here, but do keep in mind that revision is going to be particular to your writing process as well. Personally, I'm a discovery writer, and an extremely messy one. So when I revise, I like to start with the really big picture stuff, because I know I'm going to be doing things like cutting, adding, or removing whole scenes or plot pieces. Often this means I need to spend some time with my outline or at least jot some notes before I can get on with making changes to the actual story. Depending on where I am in the draft when I decided to make changes, this might mean going back and re-writing earlier scenes that now need to change, so that I feel like I'm on solid footing for the rest  of the draft. If I'm really stuck I might write (or at least start writing) multiple versions of a scene, just to see which fits. That being said, if I'm stuck or feeling down on critiques, sometimes going back and making some of the small changes that people bring up can be really helpful; it's more approachable, and sometimes the immediate gratification of making small but measurable improvements can really help deal with the mental load of feedback, too.

Finally, I just want to add that both mentally dealing with critiques and implementing the feedback you get from them are skills that improve with practice. I didn't want to open with that because it's I know it's not terribly helpful right now, but it really does get easier, and I think that's worth saying.

Edited by Silk
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