Daily Archives: November 30, 2009

The Analogy Machine (kind of)

I’m not used to getting bad grades. Case in point: I got a class journal back mid-semester with the professor’s notes, which basically said:

Good work.

I stared at this for a while. The professor’s first and last name didn’t begin with a B — so what could the B mean? This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t realize until sometime later in the day that the B was a grade.

I don’t mean that to sound haughty. It’s just reality: we don’t like getting bad grades or bad critiques. We want everyone to love our work — although that’s an unrealistic expectation. At some point, if we’re actively sharing our work and looking for advice, we’re going to get negative feedback. And we’re going to have to deal with it positively. How?

1. Don’t explode

Usually my first reaction to bad grades or bad critiques goes something like this: WHAT THE HECK? What is wrong with this professor/critiquer/reader and why don’t they understand that (a) I am perfect and (b) this is Nobel-prize-worthy literature?

That’s bad. Don’t follow my example. Instead, take a minute to breathe. The world is not over.

2. Realize: it’s the work, not you

Which is true. My professor wasn’t giving my personality a B-average. Your beta-readers aren’t trying to shoot down your self-esteem. Your beta-readers probably don’t know you personally — and my professor definitely wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a crowd. So.

Paint a line of separation between you and your work. This takes time. Case in point: the first query I ever posted on AW for critique sucked, and everyone told me so. But I took all the (rather harsh) feedback like a couple punches to the nose, which definitely didn’t make me any friends. If you have a healthy sense of separation between you and your work (obviously it’s yours, so you’re going to love it, but don’t be attached at the hip) then you’re not going to fight back.

3. Also, your crit-ers are trying to help, not hurt

The goal of a critique is to improve the work: your crit-ers are on your side. They want the work to shimmer. They want it to catch an agent’s eye and they want to love it as much as you do — they really do.

4. Now. What are they really saying?

Focus on the good stuff first. The best critiques are structured like a sandwich: compliment, suggestion, compliment. Read the compliments and smile. They’re not lying; they really like it! Good job. (If there are no compliments, well… sorry. back to the drawing board? or get a different person to read?)

Then sort through the suggestions. Take time to chew on them. You might be turned off at first by some of the comments, but think them through. They might grow on you. They might be brilliant. After all, other eyes always see what you can’t.

5. And remember, you don’t have to listen

It’s a good idea to listen — or at least try to listen. But if you really can’t face some of the suggestions, ignore them. It’s okay. These are not mandates.

6. Ask for more

Once you’ve re-polished something, send it back to the crit-er. See what they say. You might need to do some more scrubbing — or they might adore your new, mad writer-skills. Whatever happens, don’t bite their head off.


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