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Tip Tuesday #56

I love this tip from Deren at the The Laws of Making.  When you're done reading, tell us: How do you handle and deal with criticism?

It's difficult, of course, to be told that your child isn't the most perfect in the world. It's equally difficult to hear that your manuscript could be improved.

As with most difficult things, one tends to go through the five stages of grief with criticism:

Denial - That's not a problem.
Anger - They missed the point.
Bargaining - If I made this small change, would that fix it?
Depression - I can never give them what they want.
Acceptance - Maybe I can if I work at it.

Others have observed the same pattern. What I want to point out is that understanding is usually a part of acceptance. I had a hard time reaching the stage of acceptance with some of the criticism I recently received because I didn't understand. Oh, I understood the words and the concepts behind them, but I didn't understand how to make the suggested changes.

And then, on the third morning, I woke up, reread the letter, and I understood. It felt like a miracle.

Writing is the process of encoding thought with marks on a page. Reading is the process of decoding marks on a page into thoughts. There's plenty of room for error in both processes. Because of that, understanding the thoughts of another and how they apply to your own thoughts is hard work. Fortunately, it's the perfect sort of work for your subconsciousness.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
So, here's the punch line: the best way to understand criticism is to study it and then sleep on it, perhaps for several nights. I suggest three nights because, according to School House Rock, three is a magic number.

Deren Hansen

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.


  1. Awesome. I sleep on the critiques I get for a day or two before jumping in and changing things. It really helps to let it simmer.

    Thanks for this tip.

    Have a great day!

  2. It sounds cheesy, but I have mostly helped myself by (a) working hard at learning from critiques and from reading so that I just plain become a better writer, and by (b) only getting critiques from people I definitely respect enough to take their advice seriously.

    Because I take their advice seriously, I usually avoid most of those steps and end up with a combination of acceptance and thoughtful disappointment in myself. Because I work so hard at learning and becoming a better writer, I get scathing critiques less frequently and often having a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that relates to what they say, too.

  3. lol. Any advice that you can incorporate school house rock is good advice. But, seriously, great points. Understanding is probably the hardest thing I have to work on.

  4. I like the comparo between grief stages and what. is like to get a rejection or critique.

  5. Such good advice! For me, I'm so excited to fix my work, that I generally jump to acceptance almost too quickly--sometimes without stopping to consider that it may not be good advice. O_O But there are those times too that, like you, I'm not sure how to fix an issue. Usually sleeping on it will help!

  6. This idea to sleep on it is such good advice. I've found it works for me, and I've heard several other writers suggest it. Your brain needs time to process things and understand the comments from multiple angles.

  7. Great advice. I've found sometimes I stubbornly (sadly) at first reject advice only to come back to realize it's right. Sleeping on the advice for a bit would probably help with this. Thanks.

  8. A professor of mine drilled into our heads that every note is made for a reason. Maybe the suggested fix is way off, or note is written poorly, or whatever, but the reader was tripped up for a reason.

    So, you turn into a sleuth. Why was this note made? Sometimes it's straight ahead - the reader found a problem. Sometimes it's not. The reader has an issue with something you thought was strong. So why isn't that working for them?

    Ultimately, the problem solving part of writing is, imho, the most fun aspect of it. Because once you come to the solution you get that satisfying "click" of a puzzle piece snapping into place. And then you see - ah, yes, this is what it should have been all along!

    Bottom line, your story is not your perfect child. I think it's much more analogous to an artifact, one you're trying to uncover and piece together, like an archeologist discovering and reassembling an ancient ruin. If you put some pieces together incorrectly and someone points it out, it's not personal, they're just helping you to fully discover how this artifact should be.

  9. Typically when I was doing archaeology I was left to sink or swim on my own that. ;-)

  10. Finally something I feel qualified to comment on, and all I have to say is thank you this is great. Like a balm before the wound.

  11. Great advice, leaving it for three days would be good for me. The problem with that is you have been given a new perspective, so immediately you want to work with it.

  12. I'm in the mindset that nothing is perfect and there is always room for improvement. Critiques are invaluable to me. Sometimes we stare at our own words so much that we can't see glaring mistakes like others can.

    I've had a couple of critiques on my novel and yes, I've had to make changes - but only for the better. Everyone wants to hear their work is brilliant, but it's not reality.

    Listen to your critiquers and their criticism - learn from them . . .

  13. No one likes criticism but if it improves my writing I'm willing to listen. You're right, leaving it a few days always helps. I know if I get several people saying the same thing, I really take heed. Love the stages!