As writers, we’re used to having the last word. (“The End,” right?) In fact, we’re used to having every word. In our stories, we get to give voice to all of our thoughts, opinions, and experiences – be they fictional or otherwise. We hold the mic, and we don’t have to share.
Until we want to get published, that is.
Assuming that’s your goal, then suddenly there are going to be a lot of people grabbing the mic and telling you what’s what. Your friends, family, critique partners, potential agents and editors, and worst of all, your own Internal Editor. That’s a lot of voices competing for attention – the uproar can be overwhelming. My first inclination is usually to try and grab the mic back, to wrest the situation under my control again.
But here’s what I’ve learned (from years of being proven wrong): it’s better to bite your tongue.
Whether you get a critique you don’t agree with, a harsh rejection, or a scathing review, let it go. No matter how logical or witty you think they are, your retorts won’t win you any points. In fact, critique partners may think they’re wasting their time if you won’t even consider their thoughts and suggestions. Agents and editors will worry that you’re hard to work with. Readers might be turned off from your future work.
And it’s not just about what you could lose. If you learn to really listen, you might be surprised at how much you can gain.
Some of my best scenes, supporting characters, and deletions have come from criticisms I didn’t like at first. But after a lot of (internal) whining and a bit of sleep, I found myself coming around to them. Because – with the exception of a few trolls – people are not trying to be hurtful with their comments. They’re trying to be helpful.
Remembering that is the key to taking criticism well. Instead of feeling attacked and wanting to defend yourself, try smiling and saying, “Thank you, I’ll think about that.” Try seeing their point of view. Ultimately, no one can force you to agree, but if you don’t at least listen, how will you ever know if they have legitimate points or not?
So bite your tongue to keep from sabotaging your career. Bite your tongue to encourage valuable feedback that will improve your story. Bite your tongue because at the end of the day, your best defense isn’t anything you can say.
Your best defense is your best work.
(Photo courtesy of Nathan Lewis at Flickr)