As a writer you need someone to be honest to your face (even if it’s just your online face). You may feel you can take criticism as long as it’s constructive or sensitively worded or if it comes from someone you respect, but trying to influence how a reader reacts to your work is never going to yield good results.
Constructive doesn’t mean polite or supportive, it means something you can build on. That’s not to say you can’t be those things when putting forward critical opinions, but if you’re asking for constructive criticism, be aware of what it is you’re asking for.
Having said that, it also helps greatly to have someone to encourage you.
Wait, didn’t I just suggest that helpful feedback didn’t require a cheerleading section? Yes, I did. But there’s more to writing than getting the words in the right order and nicely polished.
If I tell you what you’ve written is brilliant and works on every level, that may be nice to hear, but it isn’t constructive, except perhaps to your ego. But then the occasional ego boost can work wonders when you’re in a slump. And we all get that way from time to time.
Would Stephen King be where he is today if his wife hadn’t taken the first draft of ‘Carrie’ out of the bin and said she thought it was good? I doubt she meant it would be a worldwide bestseller and the road to becoming a millionaire, she probably just meant it was good enough to get published. And that was enough to get him back at the typewriter.
And encouragement doesn’t have to be pat on the back and sweet words whispered into your ear, it can be a kick up the backside and a rant about not wasting your life watching True Blood repeats.
The thing to remember is that the person who tells you what’s not working with your manuscript in no uncertain terms, and the person who tells you you’re great and they’ll take the kids down to the park to give you an hour because they believe in you, they don’t have to be the same person.
Trying to expect the perfect mix of good and bad, black and white, hope and fear that suits your particular temperament on any given day is always going to leave you feeling unsatisfied.
Take the useful part of whatever you’re offered and train yourself to ignore the rest. I know that can be tricky. When a loved one tells you it’s all great when you know it isn’t, when a stranger online trashes everything you’ve been working on, it can feel demoralising.
But you’re getting everything you need to make the finished product. Don’t waste the opportunity because it didn’t come in the packaging you’d hoped it would.
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