Once you make the dubious life decision to pursue writing as a vocation or avocation, there are a couple of things that are absolutely, 100% certain to happen:
- Someone will start calling you “Shakespeare”;
- Someone will ask you if you’d be interested in writing their genius idea for a novel in exchange for, say, 20% of the profits;
- You’ll have to deal with criticism of your work.
From the author’s point of view there are two kinds of criticism: The kind you agree with and see value in, and everything else. The first kind is easy because it usually indicates that you yourself thought there was a similar problem with the book, and you’re just getting objective confirmation. It doesn’t feel too awful because there’s a good chance on some level you’ve already dealt with it.
The latter though can be difficult, because when people make criticisms of your work that you think are ludicrous, it’s easy to just shrug it off and assume they’re just not very good readers. But not only should you always be appreciative of anyone who is willing to give you feedback on your work, you should probably also not ignore criticisms that seem off the wall. In fact, if you’re first reaction is to frown in puzzlement at a piece of feedback, chances are this is exactly the feedback you should be paying extra attention to.
The Zone of Discomfort
It’s easy to accept negative feedback when it lines up with what you’re already thinking. The hard part—and thus the necessary part—is to listen to feedback that seems completely off-target and objectively evaluate it.
Why? Because you will never control how people react to your work, and if you’re not regularly confused and outraged by the feedback you get, you may be in a bubble where only people who see things the same way you do get to read and comment on your work. You’ve got to seek feedback that scares you a little bit, that confuses you. You might ultimately reject it just as your initial instinct told you to, but you have to at least consider it. It’s the only way you’ll ever see your writing from a point of view outside your own experience.
Also: Don’t challenge critics to duels. It never ends well.