Last week I wrote about making your feedback to others matter. This week I’m talking about the opposite, how to take comments on your own work with grace. It’s not as easy as you think. In fact, it’s a lot more difficult to be open-minded when it comes to your own words under fire. I know, because I’m not always the best at it myself.
First, you have to learn how to listen and not talk. Unless you’re asked a question, you just listen. Do not defend. Remember, this is one person’s opinion and you can choose to either go with it, or ignore it later.
Second, take plenty of notes. You don’t want to be in a position later of trying to remember what someone said because now you suspect they might be right and you want to revisit the idea.
Third, smile. At least pretend to be interested. If you scowl, if you look angry or put out, that person might hold back for fear they’re hurting your feelings, or also get angry. You could miss out on something that could improve your work.
And, fourth, don’t discount any of the comments until you’ve given yourself plenty of time to consider them. Go home, set aside your manuscript with notes, and come back to it later when you’ve had a chance to cool off a little. On more than one occasion I’ve realized a comment that seemed ludicrous at the time really did make sense. I was convinced I was saying exactly what they claimed I was not saying, or I certainly wasn’t saying what they said I was saying, so the fault was with them and not me. But then, after a suitable length of time had passed and I reread that part, I realized what I thought I was saying was not what my reader was reading. It didn’t matter what I thought was there, it wasn’t coming across clearly to my reader and when you come down to it that’s what matters. That’s the goal. You know what you want your reader to experience and it’s your job as a writer to make sure that happens.
This works just as well outside creative writing. It could be a report for school or work. It could be your annual job performance review. My advice remains the same: ears open, lips closed and smile firmly in place. The only sounds should be of your critique partner speaking, and your pen or pencil madly scratching out notes…if it’s an appropriate note-taking occasion.
Like I said, they are only the opinions of one person. If, after you have given the matter much thought you still believe your version is better, then your version is better.