Writing Lesson 3.1-“It Isn’t Personal”

That’s what my professor said as he ripped miniature trees from my architectural model–the one I’d been up all night completing.

I dreaded project juries. We hapless wannabes, sagging with exhaustion, would attempt to communicate our grand vision, knowing in our heart of hearts that the finished product failed to live up to those concepts perfectly and that those shortcomings would, in short order, be pointed out as the review board “critiqued” our work. Our creation would be criticized. WE would be criticized. We explained the difficulties that confronted us, begged for time to make the suggested improvements, but in the end the best we could hope for was to endure without tears until the moment we could escape with our creation to lick our wounds in private.

Not personal? From where I stood, it felt VERY personal!

It seemed unfair. We paid to be taught, not ripped to shreds. But as one professor explained, his job was to prepare us for a profession, and being a professional includes dealing with people who don’t understand, people with unreasonable expectations, people who are sometimes insulting. To THEM it isn’t personal; it’s just business. My job was to learn to pour myself into the creative process and yet maintain enough emotional distance to analyze, improve, and defend the finished work.

That training has served me well not only in my day-job as a building designer but also in writing. Not every project turns out as well as I hope. Not every critique partner, editor, or agent understands my vision. Though we bypass some judgements when we choose to self-publish, our writing will still be vetted by readers who write reviews. Ultimately, we need to learn how to analyze our own work impartially and allow others to take from it what they will.

Here, then, are some tips for weathering criticism and rejection:

  • Understand that what passes for brilliant talent may, in fact, be more a matter of tenacity. Few of us succeed on the first attempt. Each time we try, we get a bit closer to the mark we’re aiming for, and we learn something in the process.
  • You are not alone. Most wildly successful stories were rejected repeatedly before they found that one publisher who “got it.”
  • There are “doers” and “reviewers.” Learn to humbly heed the comments of people who are doing what you hope to do. If, however, criticism comes from someone who does not excel at what you’re trying to accomplish, their comments may be of limited benefit to you.
  • Dare to ask questions. Instead of automatically defending your work “just the way it is,” turn criticism in a positive direction by asking for suggestions. Your reviewer will likely be honored that you asked and may respond by extending respect to you as well. Their suggestions will help you see a) how to do it better or b) that they have a totally different perspective that will not be particularly useful.

Instead of letting criticisms batter my heart, I try to create a “comment box” in my imagination. If the review is rough, I put a lid on the box and do not open it until I can do so in a detached and rational manner. Eventually I sort through the responses, enjoying the positive feedback and weighing the merits of any criticisms. Some comments I throw out.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty good advice for ANY situation.

About Lynn Dean

Lynn Dean dictated her first story before she could write and continued to write stories, illustrate them, and bind them into books throughout childhood. As a homeschooling mom, she enjoyed passing a love for writing to her own children and ten years of co-op students.

Read more about Lynn.

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