My blog-mate Daveler has been writing about criticism quite a bit recently. You can say it’s something of an interest for her to receive and learn to give valid, respectful criticism. It should be for any writer. Oftentimes criticism can be misleading, petty, confusing, or unhelpful. She does an excellent job breaking down how to give constructive criticism and how to parse through the bullshit to find the kernals of criticism that can help you with your writing.
But what I think it comes down to, for most writers, is confidence in their own work. Daveler calls it “trusting your gut” but I’d like narrow that down a bit. I recently fell into this trap with The Inhabitors. I took the advice of one person a bit too far and it was detrimental to one of my revisions. This was because I lacked confidence in my own vision. It was only when I received a middling review that I realized all of the things I had done right, but maybe not perfectly, before I got rid of or changed beyond recognition. This only caused more work for me.
Many writers aren’t confident in their own work. How can you be? We’re constantly faced with rejections and criticism and in the world of the story we’ve created we have the freedom to make anything happen but are at the same time bound by the chains of our own creation. We rely on other people to help us separate the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, in order to make our stories the most resonant they can be. And this is where many writers go off the rails.
It takes a special skill to be able to separate the good advice from the bad. But a large part of that skill is actually just confidence. What helps me when faced with criticisms I don’t necessarily agree with is whether or not it fits with the story I want to tell. If someone tells me my climax needs more action when I think the story works best if my characters simply talk it out quietly I need to be confident in my decision. Now, as Daveler says, if several people tell you it doesn’t work then it might be at least diligent to revisit the decision. Maybe even take the time to write it out another way just to know for sure. It never hurts to get it down on paper.
The most important thing to remember, no matter how beaten down you may feel as a writer, is that the only person you’re really accountable for is yourself. It’s your story. Tell it the way you want to tell it not the way other people want to hear it told. What’s unique in your writing is your decisions, your voice. And those decisions and that voice are what is going to separate you from all of those writers that do take every piece of criticism they’re given.