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ROSE LERNER | How To Deal With A Tough Critique

April 22, 2010

ROSE LERNERIN FOR A PENNYI can’t remember when I first noticed that Five Stages of Grief are really, really similar to what I go through every week when I get a chapter back from my critique group with comments.

1. Denial.

“Whatever, my chapter is perfect the way it is. I don’t really have to change anything.”
“She just didn’t understand what I’m trying to do.”
“Well, A said I needed to fix X, but B said it was okay, so it’s probably fine.”

2. Anger.

“How dare she say that about my heroine?”
“Don’t they realize how hard I worked on this chapter?”

3. Bargaining.

“Well, I know in my heart that this scene is under-motivated and lacks conflict like my critique group said, but maybe if I just give the heroine a new hat no one will notice.”
“Can I put a band-aid on it?”
“I’ll wait until my rough draft is done to make a decision.”

4. Depression.

“I’m a terrible writer.”
“Why is everything I do such crap?”
“I’ll never sell a(nother) book.”
“This can’t be fixed.”

5. Acceptance.

This is the place I have to fight to get to, where I’m able to say, “Look, Rose, this is why you have a critique group. Because no one gets it perfect the first time around.” And then I really look at the feedback I got, decide what feels right to me and what I can set aside, and get in there and fix it. Sometimes it’s a small fix like changing the POV for a scene or adding a couple sentences of introspection. Sometimes I have to take the entire chapter apart and put it back together from scratch. But no matter how small a fix it is, I never seem to get there without going through the other four stages first.

I used to think I was just a big baby, and that was why. Why couldn’t I just woman up and take my criticism with grace and wisdom? But then my therapist mentioned in passing that the stages of grief are really the stages of change. And something clicked.

It makes sense, right? Grief, at its heart, is a response to a major change in your life. It’s learning to say goodbye to the way things were and the way you imagined or hoped they would be, and move forward as best you can. But it’s not just negative change that provokes that reaction–any change requires adjustment. Writing is an intense, personal process. I love my characters and my stories and I get attached. It’s only natural that when someone suggests that I change them, I have to adjust to the idea.

I find that being aware of that helps. I still go through the cycle, but at least I know the end is in sight. (Of course, the most important thing is to never, ever e-mail your critique group while still in the grip of stages 1 and 2, and probably even 3. You’ll just be embarrassed later.)

How do you deal with a tough critique?

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