Friday, 11 November 2011

It's Nothing Personal

Yesterday I posted a short story up on Write On! Teens for some feedback, and so I’ve been thinking about writing feedback, and how some people take it personally.

About a year and a half ago I entered a short story in a writing competition. I came up with an idea, wrote the story, and then sent it off to someone who offered to critique it for me. The results? She guessed my twist about halfway through, skipped to the end, and told me that it was a crappy idea, and I should start again. She offered to send her a new story if I was up to it.

To be honest, I was really annoyed with her. I raged to myself for a bit about how “she didn’t even read the whole thing – how could she tell me it was crap?” A mild-depression stage set in, and I decided not to enter the comp, because clearly I wasn’t meant to be a writer. The third stage was defiance: I was a good writer, even if she said I wasn’t! I was going to write a new story and not show it to her!

Finally, I had a realisation. It was nothing personal. Sure, she told me my story was no good… but reading back on it, I realised it was a pretty bad story. She was spot on with her advice. I could do better! And she invited me to send her another story: if that wasn’t a sign of her faith in my writing, what was? So I wrote a new short story, sent it off… and she loved it!

The moral of my story is this: when you get bad feedback, you need to realise that it’s nothing personal. It’s not a personal attack on you as a person or a writer… heck, it’s not an attack at all. It’s helpful. I think all new writers should learn this. The sooner they do, the better they’ll be. This is a good reminder for more seasoned writers too.

So, when we get a critique we don’t like, my advice is to let it sit for a few days. Don’t email a reply straight away, even if you think you’re okay. Wait a few days to clear your head, then send a polite email thanking your critique partner for their feedback.

What are your thoughts on all this? If you’ve ever had a bad critique, how did you deal with it? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I haven't really experienced many crits, bad or otherwise. But this is probably going to be something I have to keep in mind. O_o

    Good post! You're such a smart fellow.

    I like the word fellow. ^_^

  2. Yes, this is definitely something that needs to be learnt early, early on. I remember when I first started getting my work out there, and I was very defensive to anyone who pointed out things that were wrong—luckily, I'm rather non-confrontational, so I generally didn't refute them right away, which gave me time to realize that they were right, haha. Except for a handful of people who were totally off the wall, but those are easiest to just ignore/laugh at and move on. I'd say that a thick skin is probably one of the most important things to have as a writer at any stage.

    And I definitely agree with not replying right off, even if you think you're fine. After several years of getting feedback on my writing, I still tend to need a bit of a cooling period to think through the notes with no emotion and all logic. Because, you know, writing's personal. You put it all out on the page, and it takes a bit of time to untangle yourself from your own words. I know I need at least a couple hours, if not a day to get on track and see the full truth behind the person's suggestions, rather than discounting the ones I automatically feel a bit defensive about.

    Great post! =)

  3. Constance: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

    Amanda: Oh yes, thick skin is really important to have! Thanks for reading!