Friday, 17 August 2012

Growing A Thicker Skin – Feedback Does Stop Stinging!

This thick?
I hate having my work critiqued. Who doesn’t? The feeling of inadequacy, the annoyance (or perhaps anger) when someone makes a comment about your ‘baby’ that you disagree with, and the stupid feeling when you see obvious errors. It’s a hardly a fun experience, and you can come out the other end wondering why you keep putting yourself through the pain.

Despite that, I’ve always considered it a necessary evil and, no matter how painful, an important learning experience. Not all feedback need be accepted, and there are, of course, always those problems the writer is too close to see, but every technical problem shown to you that you didn’t know before adds something to your writer’s toolkit.

After about five years of having my work torn to shreds, starting with the not so flattering comment of ‘Well, it hangs together – sort of’, I still believe that. I’ve come a long way, and cringe when I look at some work from five years ago. But the process never got any easier. 

I would look forward to my crit group meetings, and at the same time I was eager to let someone – anyone – else go first, and would always demur when asked if I wanted to go next. The process of working through written feedback was totally demoralising, and I would procrastinate and find reasons not to start. When I finally opened that document, I was tense the entire time, waiting to be torn down or made an idiot of – even though the feedback was nearly always constructive. 

Or maybe this thick?
When I went on maternity leave a few weeks before the birth of my daughter, I had plenty of time to write. Owing to the ‘pregnancy from hell’ (the topic of a yet-to-be-written future post), typing was one of only two activities I could manage (the other was watching TV). However, also owing to the ‘pregnancy from hell’, I was far too depressed to contemplate reading the feedback on my novel. So I did nothing. 

In short, if I could have found a real way to avoid this part of the writing process, I would have. And all this despite the fact I am not usually a procrastinator, and I spent the first five years of my legal career having every piece of advice and agreement I drafted also torn to shreds. 

And then, two weeks ago, I received a final edit on my short story ‘Dragon Bait’. I opened it, scanned the comments and suggested changes, made the ones I agreed with, finalised the document and sent it off to a magazine. 

It wasn’t until a day later I realised I hadn’t procrastinated, and I hadn’t tensed up. I just did it. A necessary part of the process, and a job to be completed like any other. 

Apparently my skin is now sufficiently dragonhide thick so as not to bruise my ego. 

It only took twenty years!

Logically, it has to happen – if you hope to be a serious writer. If you traditionally publish, or seriously self-publish, you will have an editor. If your editor is any good, they will give your darling back to you covered in red scribble. And this may happen multiple times in respect of multiple books. If it doesn’t stop hurting, it could turn into a very stressful career choice!

But it did stop hurting. It happened, and I didn’t even notice. So now I look back at it and marvel, like a caterpillar turned into a butterfly, or a fading rainbow glimpsed at the end of the storm. 

And I smile.  
OK, maybe not this thick after all... And I don't support the slaughter of innocent dragons for gloves!

If you missed it, check out my guest post on POV Rules and when it's OK to break them here

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Dionne Lister said...

Great post :) It's so true! I don't get upset anymore either but the first few times I took it as a personal attack, how dare they I thought lol. Now it's like, oh, ok they have a point here but I don't agree with that there and I have learnt so much. I love editing other people's stuff and am always mindful that I don't want to hurt their feelings. I think sometimes it's how you give the feedback too ;).

Tom Stronach said...

Oh right, so it took you 20 years did it, you mean to tell us you started writing and getting critiques at 5, how green do you think we are young Missy Ballintyne xx

Jane Isaac said...

Goodness! I know just how you feel. When I received my first critique I was both floored and angry. I remember thinking, 'How dare they?' , LOL. But nowadays I listen/read and think about the comments raised, without the harsh feelings. A good editor always makes a script better and feedback is there to improve our work, after all.

Julia Barrett said...


Roshni AaMom said...

nice sum-up! I'm a technical writer, so it does hurt like hell when some one else points out that I missed a comma or something equally heinous!!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I admit I may not be very tactful when giving feedback, but I'm certainly not rude or mean about it. Often I spend so much time giving examples, or showing alternatives, or explaining technical craft points I don't have much left to sugar-coat it. And critiquing a novel takes HOURS. But I'm never deliberately hurtful. I guess I give feedback the same way it was given to me the first few times LOL

Ciara Ballintyne said...

LOL, Tom. I started writing at 11. I got my first rejection at 16 (too young and ignorant to know what I had written was patently unpublishable). I had a manuscript assessment done at 25, joined a crit group at 26, and now if you do the math you can work out how old I am ;-)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

The harsh feelings stopped a long time ago, but I'd still feel uncomfortable/awkward when reading feedback. Happy to say even that is now gone!

Ciara Ballintyne said...


Ciara Ballintyne said...

LOL it's even worse when someone tells you, for example, that you've used the wrong viewpoint character for an ENTIRE novel.

E.B. Black said...

Critiquing I usually take very well because it's private, just between me and them. They're usually right and I know when I fix whatever they said, I'll have an even more awesome story. It's the public stuff I hate. Where you publish a novel and it's done and people can still rip it to shreds. Posting my query on agent query connect and having stupid mistakes pointed out. Then I genuinely feel stupid because it's not one person showing me I'm stupid and discussing it with me, it's a whole group of people reading it and seeing it. And it makes me feel vulnerable. Although I've gotten better about handling the query stuff. I'm just scared when I have to deal with the reviews. >_<

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I guess my critique group is a bit public - we meet monthly in person and discuss each person's work - and some months there is up to 6 of us there. Sometimes it turns into a bit of a debate! I've never had to handle a review though because as yet I've not published anything.

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