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The Seven Stages of Accepting Criticism


Okay, I'll admit it. Some tiny part of me still expects people to read my work, set it down, and with a look of awe and astonishment on their face go "that was amazing."

Vain, yes. Am I alone? No. As a writer, I'm familiar with feedback at all stages of writing. I've submitted countless samples to my writers group, sat through multiple rounds of content and copy edits with my editors at Musa, and most frightening, read over fifty reviews of my first novel once it was too late to change anything.

Have people been kind? Complimentary? Certainly. But I've never been told there's no room for improvement. There's a reason for that, there's always room for improvement.

I've seen dozens of writers burned by the critiquing process. They storm away from our workshops complaining that we just don't "get" their work, or we weren't paying close enough attention. But if it's one thing I've learned, it's that criticism is valuable. Everything caught my your writers group is one less thing for critiques to bash about your book once it's out in the world. Every thing they don't get, you haven't explained well enough for your readers to get either. I take most of my writers groups feedback, but everything I didn't take, my editor jumped all over, and the few negative reviews I've gotten have been over things that were pointed out to me by one or two members of my writers group from the get go.

See that's another thing writers have to accept. Not everyone will like your book. You can't write something everyone will like. In my writer's group we have a rule, if it only bothers one or two people, it's personal preference. If more than that agree, it's something wrong with the story.

Criticism is a valuable tool if writers can humble themselves enough to accept it. I think it helps to know that all writers (at least all the ones I've met) experience the same sort of feelings when dealing with criticism. The difference between an amateur writer and a professional is how fast they can move through them, and whether or not they come back for more.

Below, I've laid out the seven stages of criticism and what they might look like in a writer.
  
1) Denial and frustration. "They just don't get it," is one of the nicer ways I've heard this phrased. Denial also tends to be the best you feel about your work during this process. It's when you feel you are awesome, and everyone else is the one with a problem. Does that mean you have a superiority complex? Possibly. Which is why it moves right along into. . . .

2) Guilt. Generally this phase comes with apologies and expressions of gratitude toward whomever critiqued your work."Thank you so much for taking so much time reading over my work. I'm sorry I thought you were incompetent," perhaps not in so many works. At this point, you're harboring a bit less frustration, but your thoughts may still be along the lines of, "they had a point for the type of reader they are, but that's not really my audience, so it doesn't matter."
       
3) Bargaining. "Okay. . . . they had a point, a little bit. I'll change this, but I'm not changing that. It's still my story after all.
       
4) Depression. "I'm a horrible writer. They all hate my story. Why did I ever think this crap was any good?"
       
5) The upward turn. For me, this is when inspiration strikes. All this internal dialogue I've had with myself has gotten my creative wheels turning. I start thinking, "Hey, their feedback could work, if I change this, and add that, and do such and such, I may be able to salvage this thing." This is an important stage to hit because many writers miss it. During the depression stage a lot of writers give up and do exactly what the source of the criticism suggested, which doesn't flow well with their writing because it's not theirs. The result may still be better than what they had, but it's not as good as it could be.
       
6) Reconstruction. Also known as revision.
       
7) Acceptance. This is when you look at your revised piece and realize it is better than the first. They did have a point. Your piece is stronger for it.

So what's next? Submit it again, and again, and again. At some point you do have to stop tinkering with your story and publish it. You're never ever going to hear that it's perfect, because everyone will always have suggestions, but you'll know when it's ready when those suggestions start being matters of opinion, and not things that everyone, or almost everyone, agrees with.

Every writer I've ever met goes through these stages. There's no shame in any one step so long as you do move past it. You'll be stronger for it, and your writing will definitely improve every time you go through the seven stages of accepting criticism.


Guest post by Kaitlin Bevis. Kaitlin Bevis spent her childhood curled up with a book and a pen. If the ending didn't agree with her, she rewrote it. She always wanted to be a writer, and she spent high school and college learning everything she could so that one day she could achieve that goal. She has a BFA in English: Creative Writing, and she is pursuing her masters at the University of Georgia. 


Kaitlin Bevis

She has written a young adult fiction novel "Persephone," and a short story called "Siren Song." She also writes for Athens Parent Magazine, and truuconfessions.com. You can learn more about her and her work at http://www.kaitlinbevis.com. 

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