It really, really does. Even if it’s constructive, even if it’s given kindly, even if it makes you a better writer. It sucks all the things in the land.
It is also very, truly necessary. There are many reasons one’s writing is criticised and it’s not always because you are the dumbest person ever to put pen to paper, although it certainly can feel like it at the time. That hot flush of shame, the pulse quickening, that awful pit in your stomach. You tried really hard and someone didn’t like it. But it’s ok. And you learn to deal with it more effectively each time.
Now I know nothing of manuscripts and book publishing in that sense, so I’m not much help to those of you staring down the barrel of yet another rejection letter. I also have never pitched articles out of the blue as a freelancer (I’ve never had time! But I’m sure it’ll be my turn soon enough), but I know it can be a real hassle to be turned down, especially if you’ve already written it.
What I am talking about is having your work edited or sent back for correcting, or critiqued in general, and the stupid gamut of emotions that come with it, and how best to deal with them. Well, what’s worked for me, anyway! I cringe at feedback, and often read things quickly through squinted eyes to assess the damage. It never feels nice to get something wrong, but with writing, making mistakes is the best way to learn. The hardest, yeah, the most roundabout route, yeah, but absolutely the best.
What I try to keep in mind is that if I have been commissioned for a piece and it comes back with edits and corrections, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve failed spectacularly and should take up ceramics and see if I can make a living from that instead. Perhaps I’d misread the brief. Perhaps I’d misunderstood the point. Perhaps the person issuing it didn’t explain it properly. And sometimes, it’s likely that two people’s interpretations of the same thing are both right, but also vastly different. It’s cool, they’ll just beat your beast into submission to best fit their idea and you both still get what you want. I do find stories like that quite hard to read when finally published though, it just brings all the I’m-a-douche feelings all over again! Sometimes it’s best to assume there will be things to be changed before you even open the email.
It makes you stupidly defensive. You want to explain yourself twenty times over, to show them why you did what you did, or what your line of reasoning is. It can feel a bit unjust. That’s when you start to overthink it and you’re making a cup of tea or brushing your teeth and all of a sudden it floods your mind and you get all worked up all over again. Worse still, you realise they’re right, and you won’t believe how you could possibly have missed those sorts of things the first time around. My best course of action is to just say nothing. Thank them, make the necessary adjustments, apologise if necessary and send it on its way. I feel it’s the most professional way of dealing with it, and it also lends an air of detachment to the whole thing. It won’t be the last time you’ll have to make corrections to your work so you may as well get used to it. That’s when you find a friend and unload all the injustice you’ve ever felt and they’ll agree and you’ll feel better and get over it. (as I said in my previous post about writing, do stick to your guns if you believe you genuinely believe they’re wrong, but if it’s just general butthurt, then suck it up.)
I also like to take a moment and remember: I’m a writer. Someone is paying me to put words into order to tell a story, something I’ve always wanted to do. Cheer up, all writers have to deal with this! And you wouldn’t have been asked if they didn’t think you were capable. Writing (or any creative) criticism is different because you love it so much. you’re hardly going to be so emotionally hurt if someone told you that you hadn’t cleaned a window properly, or missed a spot with the vaccuuming. You’ve invested in your words, and they’re all tied up in your ego. A lot of writing, no matter how techinical, requires you to be vulnerable. Yeouch.
One hot tip though – Do not let them see you cry! It’s not professional (didn’t Kelly Cutrone write that book If You’re Going to Cry, Go Outside? man…. so true) and if it’s just general bitching or internet nastiness, the last thing you want to do is retaliate, or worse still, defend yourself, because that shit don’t matter. Nobody ever won an argument against trolls or keyboard warriors with THE FACTS. Check their words over to see if there’s something you can genuinely learn from it, eat a huge slice of humble pie, and then figure out what you can do to be better. If they’re just being an asshole, then put them squarely out of your mind. If you are happy with what you’re doing, then to hell with them, they don’t have to read if they don’t want to. You can’t be all things to all people and you shouldn’t even try. We all have people and things that rub us the wrong way no matter what they do, or how nice they are, or how much other people like them. That ain’t nobody’s fault, but it’s best not to dwell on it whether you’re the hater or the hatee. That shit ain’t healthy.
When feeling a bit bereft because I’ve had an article sent back or whatever, I like to go do something to cheer myself up. You’ve really got to remove yourself from the situation and do something completely different. Steal a hug and a kiss from the kiddos, read a book, eat some cake, go for a walk with some music. The worst thing you can do is ruminate, you’ll invest too much energy on it. The faster you acknowledge, deal with it, and then genuinely try to move on, the better you’ll feel, the faster you’ll get over it, and the more you’ll realise the next time that mistakes don’t define you. Hell, I’ve used these tactics with all sorts of things that upset me, not just writing-related. It’s how I’ve survived the last 15 years! I honestly don’t know of anyone who came out, writing guns blazing, and just nailed it consistently every time for their whole career. It just doesn’t happen. You’ve got to be willing to take a risk, put yourself out there and learn and grow when the opportunities arise. The payoff is so worth it – when that first cheque comes in or you see your byline and you see something you wanted to do so badly is finally happening, then you’ll realise you’re quite willing to do a lot of things to get better and keep that ball rolling. Writing is addictive.
So what do you do when you feel like a miserable trollop? Please don’t tell me you give up, that’s no way to kick ass!