Constructive criticism is generally defined as useful advice that is intended to help improve something, often coming with an offer of possible solutions.
There, that doesn’t sound so bad does it? And yet we almost universally dread being on the receiving end of it. Why? Because it stings!
Still, as writers it’s an important tool in our arsenal of ways to improve ourselves and our stories. So we seek out help from beta readers and try not to bristle at their feedback. Easier said than done? Absolutely. But here are some tips to make it a little more tolerable for you the next time.
- Communicate clearly how you feel about receiving concrit BEFORE you submit anything. Set up a framework for receiving comments that works for both you and your beta.
- Recognize the value of concrit. You sought out this opinion from someone else, to get another person’s perspective of your work. So take it as it is intended.
- Remove your ego and emotions. A tough request for sure, but the more you try, the more objectively you can consider the comments. This allows you to get the most from all the feedback you’re given.
- Remember, the person offering the concrit is doing so in an effort to help, not hurt. You both have the same goal, to make you a better writer and produce a better story.
- Avoid becoming defensive. Don’t dismiss criticisms without really thinking about each one, no matter how stupid you think they are the first time you read them. Be open to learning and considering different perspectives.
- Keep the power to make your own decisions. It’s your work, with your name on it, so don’t take all suggestions blindly. Own your solutions.
- Seek to really understand the criticisms. Ask questions and get clarification from your beta. If the concrit seems harsh, ask what was meant specifically. And remember, it’s hard to convey tone in text, so don’t assume it was intended in the way you read it. Ask.
- Remember feedback is a snapshot in time. It’s a reflection on your work on that specific piece, at that precise moment. It’s not a comment on your life’s work or your talent as a writer overall.
- After you read the feedback, let yourself get mad or frustrated or whatever you feel…for a whole minute. Then let it go, go back and address each comment individually and really think about what you need to do. Take the suggestion or leave it. As always, that’s your call.
- Thank your beta! It’s almost as hard to give good concrit as it is to receive it. A beta spends a lot of time and effort trying to give you useful feedback, so take the time to tell them how much you appreciate their help and opinions.
Like most things, constructive criticism has to be handled in the right way by both the giver and the receiver, so make sure you have a good relationship with the beta you choose. When done right, it helps to promote growth in both parties. When done badly, it promotes nothing but resentment.
So when you submit work to a beta reader, don’t send it with a “tell me how good it is” mindset, rather send it off with a “tell me what you think I can do better” mentality. That way you’re already expecting lots of comments about things that might benefit from changes.
Take it from someone who knows. I have gotten drafts back from my beta that were so full of red ink, they looked like they might have been victims of a scene from The Godfather. And I don’t care who you are, when you first read through the massacre of your hard work, it stinks.
But just like Michael Corleone, I learned pretty quickly. “It isn’t personal, it’s business.”
Keep that in mind and you’ll be just fine.