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How to Deal with Constructive Criticism of Your Writing

What stops a writer from wanting to share their work?

It certainly isn’t the prospect of having a novel on the shelf, because that’s something the majority of writers aspire to.

No, it’s something else. That something is to do with our old friend Constructive Criticism.

If you find this hard to deal with, you are not alone.

In fact, human beings brains are designed to hold on to and recognise the negative – it’s what kept us alive for a long time and it still sits in the back of our minds (or the front – I’m a writer, not a scientist).

What was once useful for avoiding being eaten, is now really pesky and stops us from being our best creative selves.

Here are some tips on how to be open to, and deal with, constructive criticism of your writing.

Be clear with what you’re looking for.

Are you looking for feedback?

No? If not, say that. If you are handing your work over to someone and you’re not looking for feedback, make it perfectly clear.

Likewise, if you are after some feedback be clear about what it is you do want.

Do you want them to focus on your grammar, or are you after their personal thoughts on the main character? Do you want them to focus on the plot, or are you hoping for an all-round critique?

Be upfront about your expectations from your reader – whether it’s your editor, your beta reader, or your mother. That way you can focus the feedback into an area that is helpful for you right now, and because you asked for the specifics, it won’t feel so completely overwhelming.

Ask the right people.

If you’re looking for constructive and helpful feedback from someone who you know never reads, let alone in the genre you write in, you may want to re-think.

Their feedback may end up frustrating you! Likewise, if you ask someone for feedback and you know that they have an issue with having difficult conversations, you may be setting yourself up for a compliment fest that’ll get your writing nowhere.

Consider carefully – who are you asking to read your work at this stage, and why? What is their expertise, and why do you value their creative opinion?

Discuss how you want feedback to be delivered.

There is nothing more disconcerting than someone coming to your door with a mass of problems, and if those problems are all to do with your novel specifically, it’s even worse.

You may have a preferred way of delivering feedback, so make sure you tell the person who is reading your work how to deliver your feedback.

My favourite way to deliver and receive feedback is through the compliment sandwich. If you haven’t heard of it, this is how it works:

  • Compliment – ‘Your main character is someone I really relate to, and their voice is strong.’
  • Criticism – ‘I didn’t connect with the world enough – is there a way of building this up in the background?’
  • Compliment – ‘Your use of the five senses is excellent – it really drew me in.’

Remind yourself of the good that comes from constructive criticism.

Remember – your reader and critique are just trying to help you make your novel awesome!

You are the writer of your novel, but that doesn’t mean you are your novel, so try and take a step back and view it from a place of generosity and willingness to learn.

If you need a break, say so, that’s fine. If you need to process some information that has been given to you, ask to postpone the rest of the chat until another time.

We’re all just people, after all, trying to write the best books we can. And one of the most useful tools we have as writers? That’s peer review.

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