I have a friend who is a writer and I love her dearly. She’s sweet and she wants me to succeed as much as she wants to. But the other day, when I asked her for advice, she told me that I needed to rewrite a story I’d sent her. Her exact words were, “I think the story as a whole would really benefit from a full rewrite.” She said the structure didn’t work and that what I had the character doing didn’t really make sense.
And that hurt.
She couldn’t know that the story only existed because I was trying to write within certain constraints and that what inspired me was that I’d come up with a structure that I’d thought worked within them.
Yes, she’s read more horror than I have and, yes, I’m close to what I wrote so, right now, it’s hard for me to look at it objectively. But that doesn’t make getting a less-than-enthusiastic response feel any better. Part of me wants to ignore it. The smarter part of me knows she’s probably right. At least on some level.
I think a small part of us sends out our work just hoping that our first readers will tell us how great we are and that we’ve done something no one else could have achieved. Unfortunately, that’s bullshit because our first readers shouldn’t lie to us. They are supposed to tell us the truth where we can’t see it in order to make us better writers.
Sure, they should be gentle, but that doesn’t mean they should hold back their thoughts at the risk of our feelings. As writers, we’ll never improve if we can’t take constructive criticism.
But how do you respond to criticism? How do you keep writing?
Find someone you trust (who knows what they’re talking about). If you know the person to whom you’re sending your work has your best interests at heart, you know they aren’t being hurtful in sending you criticism. It’s easier to take their advice when it’s well-intentioned. Hopefully, it comes from someone who is a writer, editor, or critic (I hesitate to say a reader unless said person has the vocabulary and the know-how to improve a piece of writing, but find what works for you).
Set clear expectations. You can’t send off a piece expecting to hear that it’s perfect every time because you won’t. There are always improvements to be made. It’s just a matter of deciding when the improvements are necessary and when they’re Resistance.
Take what they say and don’t respond. Give yourself time away from the story and advice. Don’t act on your gut reaction. Just let the criticism sink in and come back to the work when enough time has passed that you can objectively look at it. Then, make the changes that suit the story and your own style.
Once you’ve sent something out, start writing (on a different project). Whether or not you know anything about physics, there’s a rule of the universe that states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. The same is true for writers. The more often you write, the harder it is to stop. Keep the momentum going and don’t stop writing.
Rebecca is a writer and editor helping people write masterfully, read actively, and live intentionally because she believes that improving one automatically benefits the others. To find out more about her visit www.rebeccamonterusso.com
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