It has taken me many years to learn the art of accepting criticism. My agent taught me the first step. Whenever she suggested a change she urged me to ‘sleep on it’ before responding. Words of wisdom indeed. My first reaction is nearly always: no way! I am not changing a thing about MY book and how dare you even suggest it? I hate you! Anger is closely followed by despair – I should never have believed in my book and myself anyway. What was I thinking of? – I then used to dash off to change my novel completely. Not anymore.
These days when I receive criticism, I allow the initial feelings of hatred to wash through me, knowing they are just a stage. I put the suggestions aside, for about twenty minutes, and read it again. I still hate the critic, but perhaps less so. The next day, I might aknowlege the trouble the reviewer has gone to. I mean he/she has spilled thoughts, about my work, from one human brain, onto a page, for me to consider. I hate him/her slightly less. Then, as before, depression sets in. This can last for several days or even a week. Then the day comes when I read the suggestions again, shrug my shoulders and think maybe this person has a point, maybe they don’t. Feeling slightly less hurt, I may thank the critic (if they haven’t said anyting too awful.) A week or two later, after I’ve thought about their comments, while walking the beach, daydreaming in bed and staring at many white walls, I pull out the manuscript and re-read it. I wonder if the suggested changes may add to the book. If the answer is, yes, I try them out. Sometimes I’m not sure whether or not they have worked. If one of them niggles at me, like wearing the wrong belt with an outfit, I take it out again.
My motto used to be: I’d rather do something on my own, and get it wrong, than collaborate with anyone else.
Slowly that is changing. I have learnt the value of a good critic. When, and only when, I have gone as far as I can with a piece of writing myself, a good critic can point out the gaps. If he/she wants to know more about a character or a setting, I’m okay with that. In fact that is very useful information. I have a tendency to write quickly and not hang about too long with description (even though I’m always pointing out this flaw to children and teenagers).
This morning I received criticism from a good critic. She, like others, wanted more back story on my main characters. I am not a fan of backstory. The less the better in my book – literally. However I shall see what I can do, and in the meantime I have thanked her. See? – I am maturing!