It is a common misconception that constructive criticism is easier to take than unfoundedly mean spirited criticism.  More often than not, this isn’t the case.  While it can be fairly easy to ignore and move on when criticism doesn’t resonate,  when it rings true, pain really sets in.  It’s hard to see your reflection and dislike what you find.  And when someone else holds the mirror, it’s even worse.  But I found that I can be resilient in the face of such genuinely painful critiques.

Last week, in my writing group, I discovered just how much the truth can hurt.  I’ve been working so hard on my second draft of my novel The Particulars, and I really thought I was making good progress.  So when it came my turn to submit to my weekly writing critique group, I was excited to hear some feedback.  My group usually loves my writing, so I was caught completely off guard.  Though their critique of my opening chapters was very constructive, it certainly wasn’t favorable.

It was rough, listening to nearly two hours of how my writing wasn’t working, so when I finally got off the Skype call, I broke down.  I cried more than I had in a long time.  I was just so frustrated and disappointed in my writing and in myself.  I felt stupid for thinking it was good when it wasn’t.  And the worse part was I really didn’t think I knew how to fix it.

Once the tears stopped flowing, though, I had a choice.   I could choose to be resilient in the face of a difficult situation.  Here’s some tips that helped me:

  1. Don’t read into it.
    The biggest mistake you can make when dealing with a harsh critique is to read into what it means about who you are as a person.  I could have told myself that because the opening of my book wasn’t working, that I was a terrible writer or that I’d never be published, but there’s nothing productive that will come from thinking those things.  Besides those things aren’t even true.
  2. Get right back on the horse.
    The very next morning after the critique, I forced myself to start again because I knew the longer I waited the harder it would be to start again.  So don’t wait.  No time like the present.
  3. Look for the opportunity.
    I realized I could choose to be burned by this critique, or I could rise for the ashes a stronger writer.  This was my chance to grow and improve, if I choose to use it that way.
  4. Start fresh.
    Since my writing wasn’t very effective in my first draft,  I gave myself permission to come at it from a different perspective and tried something totally new.  I scrapped the first three chapters of my novel completely and started over from scratch.
  5. Don’t give up.
    The only way you can really lose in these situations is to give up.  There would be an upside, if I stuck with it.

So I rewrote my first three chapters, and what I came up with was so much better than what I had.  At least I was pretty sure it was.  But to make certain I had to submit myself to one more critique.  I asked one of the group members to read it again for me, and to my relief, she absolutely loved my new direction.  And the fact that I was able to do so despite my pain and sweat and tears, made the victory all the sweeter.

Here’s the new opening paragraphs of The Particulars as it stands now:

Veril Maloit picked up his manuscript and dumped it into the trash.  It was no use.  It was no good.  He was no good.  He kicked the overflowing waste bin.  There was no evil worse than writers block.  He glared at his desk.  It looked so empty without his novel cluttering it up.  Two hundred thousand words in, and he didn’t even know what it was about yet.  What a waste of trees.

He took a deep breath and gagged.  What was that strange odor?  By the smell of it someone had just run over a skunk with a truck of herbal medicinal supplies.  He coughed and pinched his nose closed with two fingers.