Friday, November 21, 2014

Advice on Advice

There is nothing easy about receiving criticism about yourself, something you've done, or something/someone you love. As a writer, I'm routinely in a position to both critique and be critiqued, and sometimes, I dread opening the attachments where I know I'll be confronted with opinions on the work I've done.

I'm not saying people don't try to be tactful.

I'm not saying I don't agree with the comments that are made.

I'm just saying it's hard to take, and it can leave even those of us who have been subjecting ourselves to this kind of review for months or even years... well, bummed.

There's a lot of good advice out there about how to handle criticism. (Especially for writers, since we like to write about our troubles and publish it in books, magazines, and blogs.) Some I like, and some I don't. That's right. I'm about to critique advice on critiques. ;)

Here's an overview of some popular advice:
  1. Remember it's just one person's opinion. 
  2. Consider that the critique partner has your best interests in mind.
  3. Take some time to process the comments before you make decisions about how to apply them.
  4. Develop a good group of critique partners you can trust.

The problem with the first one, is that there have been times when one or two people warned me about something, and I wrote it off. It's just their opinion, I thought. But then a long way down the line, I realized they were right and had to get to work on the rewrites. Would've been easier if I'd been more open to the first person or two who made the point. Same thing applies outside of writing. When a friend mentions that you seem to be blowing that argument with your mom/sister/whoever out of proportion, it might be time to pause. Even if just one person brings it up.

We're human and our intentions are sometimes off. So, the second tip doesn't always apply, either (though, hopefully, it usually does apply). But remember Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery in the Bible? Joseph eventually became second in command to Pharaoh. When he told his brothers he forgave them, he said that what they'd meant for harm, God used for good. So, regardless of the intentions, God can always use our circumstances for good. Easy to say it, but hard to act like we believe it, right?

I'm going to claim the third one as my favorite piece of advice. I've received criticism that seemed extreme, off-base, and way-out-there when I first read it. And then I let the feedback sit. And then it started to make more sense. After time, I was able to incorporate the feedback. Sure enough, my writing got stronger for it.

The fourth tip is important, too. I hear from a group of critique partners regularly. I like their writing, and I trust what they have to say. I know them well enough to trust that they do have my best interests in mind. And, because we have ongoing relationships, even if I flop once, I know I can come back and do better next time. Whew! I do love the chance to redeem myself. :) Even in other areas of life, having people you can trust to call you out when necessary and who can act as a sounding board when you're processing feedback can really help.

So, what's your advice on taking feedback?

Your Sister

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