What if criticism was… good?

Some very direct criticism

Look, okay, I know it’s Saturday. But I did start writing this yesterday, and I’m retroactively making it my other 2023 resolution to be kind to myself.

When I was trying to come up with a blog I was panicking because I don’t really have any writing things to talk about – as in, nothing is coming up or coming out. (Insert your own joke here.)

But one thing I have been doing of late, is taking part in a weird collaborative wiki, where lots of people put together a very inconsistent world and then write about it. No, it’s not SCP.

One thing the wiki group is great for – there’s a lot of feedback going on. It’s in-depth. It’s not always the best, but it does remind me about the importance of getting feedback – and especially criticism.

This is something that I’ve been missing in my attempts to get a second book together. It’s hard to tell what works and what doesn’t. I don’t know how other people are reading or interpreting something. I might think I’ve said one thing, and other people think I’ve said something quite different.

The wiki group also highlights the range of different responses to criticism. From people who accept all of it, even the subjective bits, and immediately change what they’ve written – to those who refuse to take on any criticism at all.

And I can get that. I make it a policy of never responding to detailed feedback without at least a couple of hours to mull it over, because my immediate reaction to criticism is to get defensive that they don’t think what I’ve written is wonderful and perfect. As though I didn’t go out of my way to get feedback on a draft.

The worst is when the beta reader points out all the bits where I’ve struggled to make it work and which I already know aren’t great. Because I’ve tried to fix those already, and you’re still telling me they suck, what more do you want from me?!?

Once I’ve had time to sulk a bit, I try to take a middle path between changing everything and changing nothing. I might ask what the reader thinks would work better in those bits which I know kind of suck. And if they’re cool, they’ll tell me. I change the bits which are grammatically incorrect. I fill the plot holes I hadn’t noticed.

And while I might not change everything that’s suggested, I will look harder at the particular issue – is it caused by something else that could be changed? Do I want to make a different change than could be suggested? Has the reader just missed the point a bit, and if so, am I making that point well enough?

Even if the reader has just catastrophically misread the whole piece, I try to take something away from any critique, because no one is going to read the thing I wrote the same way I do.

If you’ve made it this far through the blog without becoming lost and confused about what the hell I’m talking about, then well done. If not, I blame it on the lack of feedback.

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash