As much as we want to think everything we write is gold, it isn’t. In fact, when you’re first starting out, it’s not even silver or bronze.
Anyone who has dipped their toe into the feedback pool knows how scary it is to send your beloved draft to someone else. You know how it feels when you see that new email notification and how much your heart thumps when you open the returned file. Will the comments be bad? Will they tell you can’t write? Did they get the plot twist in chapter five?
Unless you’ve written and sent out the perfect manuscript, there will always be feedback that skirts between constructive criticism, pointing out what works, and the bad. Guess which one you’ll remember the most? The bad, it’s always the bad. Simply because it feeds into our own self-doubt, often mirroring what we know deep down is wrong with our words.
But even bad feedback, the kind that makes you consider giving up, can be learned from. Here’s how…
The Dos And Don’ts Of Handling Bad Feedback
Do Grow A Thick Skin (You’ll Need It)
A lot of writers say once they publish their book and it’s out in the world it belongs to the reader. Before you get to that enlightened point, the book is still very much yours, and everyone protects what’s theirs.
It’s easy to take every bad comment personally, but for your own sanity, it’s better if you don’t. The feedback is for the words, not you. The quicker you learn that the thicker your skin will grow. And you’ll need that armor for when you submit to publishers or agents and get your first rejection.
Don’t Let It Harden Your Heart
That armor you’re trying to build should not wrap around your heart. A hardened heart leads to bitterness, and that’s not what writing should be about. Most writers put down their words because they love it, because it brings something to their life; joy, meaning. Things that will serve your writing better than bitterness ever will.
Do Make A Plan
Go through the feedback methodically. Break everything down using colored highlighters. Assign colors to praise, misunderstood paragraphs, typos, formatting issues, confusing sentences, and hard-hitting criticism. Make a plan for what you’ll fix first. One tip I’ve found that helps me is working through the easier re-writes first. It’s not so scary or daunting going through your MS fixing typos. Then, once you’re used to going back through it with a critical eye and fixing errors, you’ll be more comfortable dealing with the harder stuff.
Don’t Forget That Critiques Can Help
As much as you want to just scoff and dismiss anything you don’t agree with, take a closer look. Really weigh up what the critique says. Put your ego aside and look at it objectively. Are they right about the first chapter not being strong enough? Is it possible your MC is coming off as unlikable? Do you need to move your exciting incident closer to the beginning of the book? It wouldn’t have been brought up if it worked, so consider why it’s not working, and how you can fix it.
Do Walk Away (Temporarily)
As much as you’ve thickened your skin and tried to see the best side of the critique, you’re still human, and humans need to process things. Give yourself some time. Read the critique and walk away from it. Don’t respond. Don’t make radical changes. Don’t delete your MS. Don’t give up. Give yourself space and a little time to consider what they have told you and then go back to it when you’re calm enough to remember that critiques can help.
Don’t Stop Learning
Sometimes it’s not that the feedback is bad, it’s that we don’t know how to fix the issues that are brought up. That’s the straightest route to self-doubt town. Knowing what is wrong but not knowing how to fix it almost broke me earlier this year, but I worked out what I needed to learn (Show, Don’t Tell and Deep POV), and I started my re-writes. Take a course, read a book, ask for help from writers who’ve been there before, scour every blog post on the topic. Then practice, re-write, and continue to learn. You’ll get there in the end.
— K.M. Allan