As a professional musician, and now as a writer, I’m no stranger to criticism. Learning to handle it, sort through it, and apply it is key for anyone in a creative field. But how do you learn to do that when the critique can be hard to hear? While I’m no expert, I have come up with a few tips to help me process, learn from, and ultimately be grateful for even the harshest critiques.
Take It to Jesus. This should always be your first step. He knows your heart, and he knows critiques can sting. But he also has your best in mind, and he will turn even the worst review into something that works for your good and his glory.
Put It Away. I cannot stress this highly enough. Read through the contest critique or revision letter and then put it away. Giving yourself some time and emotional distance will allow your mind to percolate on the suggestions without those messy feelings getting in the way.
Feel Your Feelings. This may seem counter intuitive, but if a critique hurts, you’ve got to process that before you can get any good out of the comments. So, if you’re stung, it’s okay to wallow and binge-watch Netflix and vow not to write … just as long as you don’t stay there forever.
Go to Jesus Again. When you feel ready to read the critique or tackle the revisions, ask for wisdom and discernment.
Don’t Take It Personally. That contest judge who tore your first chapter apart? She was critiquing your work, not you. That rejection you received wasn’t a rejection of you as a person, but of a thing you produced. It is hard to bleed all over a page and then divorce yourself from it, to recognize it as a thing you made rather than a thing you are, but it’s critical for survival in a creative field.
Be a Gleaner. Remember that wisdom and discernment you prayed for? This is where it comes in, because even the harshest critique generally contains a few pearls. Your job is to dig through and find them. Maybe you disagree with the contest judge’s assertion that your heroine is whiny, but the suggestion to cut the middle three paragraphs on page four resonates. Fantastic! You’ve found a pearl. Apply it, cut those paragraphs, and rejoice that your work is that much better.
Ultimately, critiques are a sampling of potential reader reactions, and one of the advantages of having many pairs of eyes on your work is that sometimes you’ll start to see the same reactions crop up more than once. If you’ve entered five contests and fourteen of the fifteen judges say your hero is swoon-worthy but one finds him obnoxious, then you don’t need to give him a personality makeover. There’s always one reader who won’t like your hero/heroine/plot/setting, no matter what you do. If, however, twelve of the fifteen tell you your hero comes across as arrogant and preachy, that is absolutely something you need to consider changing.
Trust Your Gut. You’re the writer. This story is yours. Don’t let your lack of experience scare you, and don’t let someone else’s status intimidate you. If you feel strongly about leaving your work as is, if you feel in your heart that whoever critiqued you is off-base or just didn’t get it for whatever reason, don’t make wholesale changes.
Give Thanks in All Circumstances. Not necessarily for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. Nothing reaches you that isn’t filtered through the sovereignty of a loving God, and he has something in mind for even the harshest critique. Even if the critique is hurtful, even if you get nothing out of it, you can still rejoice. Why? Because someone totally tore your work apart, and you survived.
In a creative field, knowing you can withstand that kind of storm is a treasure.
In addition to her writing, Amanda maintains an active and rewarding career as a freelance cellist, and has been spotted onstage at the ACFW Conference with the worship team. She lives in Kansas with her husband and their three adorable and hilarious Wenlets.