During my junior year of college I took a creative writing class. We were getting ready to read and critique our first round of student work when the instructor gave the rule: when you are receiving feedback, don’t speak.
We were a bunch of undergrads. We loved to issue disclaimers, qualify, defend, fight, whatever else we could do to keep our budding writer egos fresh. Unsurprisingly, most of the class didn’t follow this rule. But I figured I’d try it.
I received a whole slew of suggestions and criticisms, many of which made me want to stand up and yell “Objection!” However, I heeded the instructor’s advice, saying nothing but “Thank you,” when the reviewers finished. I even took notes on everything they said whether or not I liked it.
The impact wasn’t immediate. The first time I looked over my notes, my mind was swimming with its own counter-criticisms of “They don’t know what they’re talking about,” “They don’t understand my greatness,” ad nauseam. But after getting some distance from the comments, I realized many of them were true. Some of my best and most drastic revisions came from those comments I initially didn’t want to hear.
This lesson is invaluable to all writers, fiction or otherwise. Writing may be a solitary act, but it is not a solitary process. We need the criticism of others for our work to grow, and we need to be gracious and humble enough to accept it.
It can be difficult, of course. We invest so much time and effort into our writing and imbue within it so much of ourselves. But refusing to accept criticism (or worse, fighting every piece of criticism you receive) only prohibits you from becoming a better writer. So if you’re sitting in a critique group and someone tells you something about your work you don’t want to hear, just say “Thank you.” If you don’t mean it at the time, you will later.