Guess who is currently writing and editing her first book? This girl. A large part of that process is working with other people — editors, publishers, other writers — a whole legion of persons I willingly sought out with the sole intention of having them critique my work. I voluntarily hand over what I (at the moment) consider to be my life’s work, my baby, my child, the summation of all the creative stuff that has thus far ever swirled around in my brain. I say, “Here you go. Here are my 55,000 words. Please judge them accordingly.”
And they do. They rip it apart. “This won’t work because this.” “This section isn’t realistic.” “Cut this chapter.” “This character isn’t believable.”
And so the very grueling process goes.
Critique is a huge part of the process of writing a book, but it’s also a massive part of living your life as a creative person in general. We can experience fear of critique when hitting “publish” on a blog post or even on a particularly lengthy Instagram caption in which we get vulnerable. Dancers, singers, writers, performers: We all put ourselves out there creatively, the ultimate act of vulnerability, and we allow critics to open fire on us.
When we face judgment — whether it’s warranted or not — it’s important to realize that it’s fleeting, whether it’s in the form of a teacher marking up your essay with red pen, a boss commenting on your performance, or your friends judging your decisions because they are unable to understand where you’re coming from.
Criticism is not an endpoint; it’s merely a mid-way stop on the way to the destination, the destination being the best possible version of the thing you made or created or tried to do.
If you too are feeling a little vulnerable right now, as though your world has been rocked by a less-than-gentle critic, revel in these tips for how to receive and recover with grace.
1. Take a breath
When someone criticizes you, it’s like you’re standing in a small space. Break that space open by taking a few moments to collect yourself in whichever way is most beneficial and healing for you. This could mean actually breathing (hello, meditation apps!), taking a walk, spending some time in nature, making some tea (as I do!), repeating a phrase or quote that invigorates you, or reading a book.
2. Remember it’s merely opinion
Everyone has one! Critique isn’t law; it’s one person’s opinion. If you trust that person’s opinion and truly believe their best intentions are to bolster your work and improve it, then their judgments will move you to your strongest work yet.
3. Focus on where you’re going
Critique is not the goal; it’s a pitstop on the way to the opus, the “pass Go to collect $200.” Take those critiques into consideration, improve with those opinions in mind, and revise until you can’t get any better.
4. Respond with more of what you want to get
Hard as it is, respond to judgement with the type of kindness and gentleness you’d like back from the critiquer. When something you’re proud of is being harshly looked at by the firing squad, of course it’s natural to want to react defensively. (I have the same urge!) Instead, curb this impulse and realize it’s merely a defense mechanism. Responding defensively hardens and hinders you from reaching your maximum potential.
Resolving to write and edit a book, I’m finding out, is a true test of character. I’m showing my rawest parts on a daily basis and every day, I’m learning more about how to accept and recover from critique. Most days, I remember one of my favorite quotes from the indomitable Brené Brown: “If you’re not in the arena getting your butt kicked too, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
As long as you trust the person you’re getting feedback from, then submit to the process, give yourself space, take breaks, remember what matters, remain calm, and let the process kick you a bit. Once you succeed, you can kick back.