Learning How to Take Constructive Criticism

There's a first time for everything

I can still remember my first real exposure to constructive criticism of my writing. Sophomore year of college, I received my first C+ on a paper in my entire educational career. Immediately, I rationalized the grade had to be a mistake. I read the remarks my professor left on each of the eight pages I’d written, and I grew defensive and angry. Preparing myself with counterpoints, I scheduled a meeting during office hours to argue my stance with him.

Before I had the chance to challenge his grading, my professor hit me hard with the truth. “We both know you can do better than this,” he said. “You’re good, and I am holding you to a higher level of accountability than others. Your grade stands. But I know your next paper will be back up to the A level quality of work you are capable of producing.” I left that conversation understanding, probably for the first time, what it felt like to receive constructive criticism on my writing. And you know what? I took another class with that same professor the next semester because I knew he would challenge me and push me to grow in my abilities. More than that though, I knew I would always be able to trust his feedback.

To this day, I still review pieces of my writing and think, “Is this your best?” That professor taught me a lesson I’ve carried with me for more than a decade. Learning how to receive feedback, and use it constructively, is something we as writers must grow into on our own. Here are my top tips for lessening the sting and using it to better your craft.

1. Take a positive approach

We have a natural tendency as writers to assume the worst when we get feedback on our work. However, a simple shift in mindset can make a world of a difference. By focusing on the idea that someone else took time out of their day to read what we had to say, and also provide feedback, shows they genuinely care and want our work to be the best version it can be. (This does not necessarily apply to internet trolls.)

2. Replace doubt with confidence

Remind yourself that you took a huge leap of courage by stepping outside your comfort zone and that in itself is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Our self-doubt often exaggerates our emotional response to feedback, but we should remind ourselves that we are confident and capable enough to use feedback to further improve our work.

3. Step away when necessary

When the feedback gets too overwhelming, there is no harm in distancing yourself from your writing for a few days. The time away can clear your head and allow you to see your writing from a different viewpoint. After some space, that is when the best revisions take place.

4. Don’t take it personally

It’s hard to keep a boundary between us and what we create, but feedback on our work isn’t a personal dig at us and our capabilities.

5. Feedback will always be a part of creating

Whether it’s the voice in our heads, reviews on Amazon, or a fan letter in our mailboxes, we will never run short on criticisms as writers. Embracing it, processing it, and using that feedback however it best serves us as creatives is the only way to truly interact with any form of criticism.

Can you recall the first time you experienced criticism with your work? How did you take it and what sort of advice would you lend others going through that part of the writing process? Remember, constructive criticism uses the word constructive for a reason. Don't let someone's critique of your writing get you down, take that feedback and utilize it for the better!

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