Hurtful feedback and how to graciously deal with it. Isn’t that the bane of every author’s existence?
Not necessarily, but if you’re anything like me, it’s not something that comes naturally to you. Thankfully, we can acquire this badly needed skill. With some luck it may even get easier over time.
When we hand our manuscripts over to our editors or beta readers, we do so realising full well that we might end up receiving some harsh criticism. That should not hold us back, however, as the feedback that stings the most is often the most useful and can help us grow tremendously in our writing.
But only if we know how to deal with this feedback in a professional way.
How do you deal with hurtful feedback?
And here we get to the heart of the problem, because behaving like the professional you want to be sounds far easier than it is. They just attacked your writing — your baby — and all you want to do, is throw a hissy-fit.
Am I right? Of course I am, and you know how I know this? Because I’ve been there, too.
Don’t be me. Don’t sabotage yourself like this. It’s ugly and unprofessional, and you really don’t want to be that author. Trust me on that.
First Things First: Calm down
First of all, we need to understand that the feedback we receive is about the story and our writing. It has nothing to do with who we are. Unless you have somehow managed to antagonise your reader, their feedback is never a personal attack.
That said, critiques can be harsh, and we may feel extremely hurt by what is said in them. Our initial reaction may be to get mad or sad, or a combination of both — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. BUT…
You knew there was going to be a but, right?
We can’t let our upset dictate the way we interact with our editors and beta readers. So we need to take a step back. Maybe we need to curl up on the couch, with our cats and a pint of ice-cream. Maybe we need to go punch something. That’s alright. Do whatever you need to do to regain your composure.
Step Two: Take another look at the feedback
Now that you’re back in control of your emotions, you can go and have another look at the critique. Chances are, it will hurt less. You might even end up agreeing with some — or all! — of it.
The latter is actually quite common. I have found that the words that hurt me most, were exactly those I needed to hear most, and I’ve learnt to pay extra attention to exactly that kind of feedback. That is never fun, but absolutely worth all the heartache.
Step Three: Repeat steps one & two as often as necessary
I’m not kidding. It’s never easy to deal with hurtful feedback, but this is important. You cannot look at the criticism objectively if you’re still hurting. If that means you have to repeat steps one and two a million times, then that’s what you need to do. Chances are you’ll only need to repeat them two or three times, though. Maybe even less often.
Step Four: Accept or discard
After completing those first three steps you are finally ready to make an informed decision on which criticism to accept, and which to reject. And yes, it’s absolutely fine to reject feedback that you don’t feel will help your writing. That neither invalidates your writing, nor the feedback.
Last but not Least: Thank your editor/beta reader
Your editors and beta readers have invested time and energy in your work. Without these people being there for you, you’d have a much harder time growing and improving as a writer. They provided you with valuable feedback – yes, even the suggestions you discarded were still valuable, so don’t skip this step. It would be rude.