Nuggets – Taking Criticism

Okay, so. After my last announcement I was feeling pretty awesome, and then almost immediately after got some advice/critique that immediately deflated any burdgeoning ego.


My ego has self-confidence issues.

But, in all honesty, deflation like that is necessary. Without honest critique I’d hit a plateau and then end up staying there for god knows how long. Sure there’ll be some things I could improve by practice, but critique and constructive criticism is a jetpack on the hike up ‘writing’ mountain. That’s a terrible metaphor but shut up it’s Monday.

In my personal experience, learning how to take constructive criticism was one of (if not the) hardest lesson I had to learn so far in life. And that’s including my generation’s current ‘so we can’t actually do whatever we want if we work hard enough?’ life crisis. To anyone that says we can I have a couple choice words for you: Retirement, Gender Bias, Health Problems  and Saturated Markets. But that’s another post.

When I was younger, I was dead set on becoming an author/artist combo who studied sharks for a living. But I knew I had to improve my art skills somehow (my shark skills were top-notch), so I signed up for night classes. It was an adult class, and without it, I’m pretty sure I’d be an emotional porcupine whenever anyone would offer a suggestion on my work.

Lord knows I was before I took that class. The teacher was tough, and decided she wasn’t going to coddle 13-year-old Alice. Instead she vigourously pointed out mistakes, but did (eventually) offer suggestions on how to improve.

Colonel Meow

Bitch, what do you mean my art isn’t PERFECT?!

Trial by emotional fire, I kid you not. But, again, necessary. Now I’d rather hear the blunt problems people can encounter with my writing. But that’s not to say that it’s easy to hear, just that I know it’s not personal (and if it is, then HATERS GONNA HATE) and that no response would be worst of all.

What caught me the other week was the scale of the criticism. “It’s your style, the flow, it’s all choppy.” That’s not something easy to fix, since it’s not limited to one story and it’s something that I very obviously didn’t see. Or, y’know, it wouldn’t be choppy.

It took a while to absorb, and digest and I’m still trying to figure out a way around it. It’s also hard to get motivated when I’m now studying every paragraph for choppiness, or lack of flow. It’s something I’ll need to do, but not during the first draft.

While doing this, I realised that the steps needed to absorb criticism are eerily similar to the 7 stages of grief.

1. Shock or Disbelief

The first moment you hear someone say “I loved what you did here, but…”

That ‘but’ is the harbinger of criticism. Gird your loins fellow writers, there is incoming advice/criticism. 9 times out of 10, it’s about something you didn’t expect or about your baby phrase/character/plotdevice that you just love so much.

His name is Espesito and he’s a dashing pirate who is also a Ninja king with a hard heart of gold. He is just so cool.

2. Denial

But clearly the critic didn’t understand what you meant, right? Otherwise they would also be in love with Espesito too, and swoon over the one liners that he tosses over his shoulder like the cold badass he is.

Obviously you need to explain it to them.

3. Anger

No, apparently they understood Espesito, they just don’t have any taste. They think he’s ‘cliche’, that the one liners are flat. FLAT? You are the best bard since Shakespeare. BETTER, even. You are god’s gift to prose and they’re just jealous that you are the mind-owner of Espesito in all his pirate glory. They can’t understand true genius!

4. Bargaining

Well, okay. Maybe Espesito could use some work. Would a badass pirate ninja really stop and rescue kittens in the middle of a steampunk global war? What if… what if we cut the kittens scene and the line ‘It seems our ship is now a purrfect catamaran’, then can you keep the scene where Espesito cuts off the zombie king’s head and says ‘you better quit while you’re a head?’ What if you cut out the paragraph long description of his manly moustache?


5. Guilt

You read through the whole story again and realise that Espesito really doesn’t have that much to do with your coming of age story of a victorian girl set to marry a suitor she’s never met.

Cue the guilt over the earlier flare up of anger. Okay so you probably shouldn’t have called your critic a ‘talentless mud-donkey’ who ‘wouldn’t know brilliance if it slaped him/her with a chicken’.

Apologies may work at this stage in the game, but usually it’s just best to try not to say nasty things in the future, you horrible mean person.

6. Depression

(not to be confused with clinical depression.)

Sad Cat

Sigh. I guess I should fix this, but what if the whole story is poop? What if my entire life is poop since that’s all I can write?

I’m just a big poop making little poop out of poopy words on a poopy computer.

Okay. I hear you. This is where I’m at right now. It sucks. It’s awful and consumes valid time if you let it. DON’T LET IT. Take a deep breath. Work on something else. Take a stiff drink (or three) and then pull on some non-latex gloves and dig back into that stinky, poopy mess.

There is something better for you at the end, I promise.

7. Acceptance leads to Hope

Okay. So you’re elbow deep in your metaphorical, (I hope, I hope to god it ‘s metaphorical), poopy story. You’re starting to see that yes, Espesito was pretty awful. The whole concept of him was. You dump him, he cries and asks you to take him back. That he’ll be different. That he won’t sleep with your sister.

Don’t listen to him. He’s a liar. He is the poop-spewer that you need to ditch to get a shiny, polished story.

Now scrub up that story and find out she was beautiful all along under that layer of refuse.

Then rinse, and repeat until you can’t take it any more.

Then you have my permission to submit.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can dig my story out of poop during lunch. *Pulls on poop-gloves with a snap.*


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