Criticism: Why you want to deflect, protect and protest

The most difficult part of the writing gig is listening to someone critique your work. Every writer, no matter how experienced, will admit that it takes time, patience and ‘working on it’ to develop the kind of distance and objectivity to handle feedback correctly.

I always tell the story of my very first encounter with being critiqued. It was a university workshop and I received feedback from a group of 20 writers, including the professor. I can still remember the piece of work (a section of my first fantasy novel that opened with a chase scene) and I remember sitting there, turning hot and bothered as people in the class spoke up about the writing, the pacing and characterisation. Many of the comments were kind, some were brilliantly insightful and some were negative. Like, really negative. At the end, my professor gave her thoughts on how I could strengthen the piece and then patted the pages and said: ‘Coming to a bookstore near you soon!’

Not bad, considering.

I left the room, went into the bathroom and cried.

Afterwards, I realized three things:

  1. All I could think about were the negative comments – and the work it was going to take to get it ‘right’ and that, right there, was my issue. Not theirs, but mine. Back then, I was super worried about getting it ‘right’.
  2. I cried and became emotional, not so much because of the negative stuff, but because I was exposed and vulnerable and I badly wanted to deflect, protect and protest.
  3. I had a choice, always. A choice to listen, to act on their feedback or bury it, a choice to look at the work again with a new perspective or a choice to simply leave their comment to the side for now, with the option to revisit it later. The point was: the work is mine and I do know best. Feedback can be wonderful when it confirms something you suspected but were unable/unwilling to admit.

After that first workshop, I can say I have never cried about feedback since. There are times I still feel the urge to deflect, protect or protest but it gets weaker at every session and it’s pretty hard to upset me now but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a bit of reminding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *