Constructive criticism never feels constructive. It feels insulting. You ask for feedback, and you wind up cursing your reader’s mother for birthing the moron in the first place: “I’ll show him ‘stilted’ and ‘contrived.’” So why did you ask for help? You ought to ask yourself that before sharing your work with others. If you go into any workshop setting (whether it be in person or on the web) hoping to receive panegyrics about your talent and potential, then you’re taking your work to the wrong place. Your mom would be better suited for that kind of job. But if you truly want feedback, get ready to have your feelings hurt. Here’s how to handle the ensuing wallops productively.
1. You don’t have to take every piece of advice offered. Some people will hate certain things about your art, while others will love those things. Take the advice you want, and leave the rest. The idea of a workshop is to receive feedback on what works and what doesn’t work in your piece. If one person claims your ending works, while nine people claim that it is “stilted” and “contrived,” you probably want to consider whether or not the ending needs revision. But if you are absolutely convinced the ending works, then go for it. It’s your work of art, not theirs.
2. You need thick skin. People will hurt your feelings (sometimes intentionally). It doesn’t matter. Approach the workshop with a tactical mindset, and you might even find some useful advice in the nastiest of responses. On the other hand, you cannot learn anything if you’re struggling to decipher your peers’ comments behind a hazy screen of tears and self-pity. Buck up.
3. Do NOT defend your work. Listen to your peers’ responses. You asked for the criticism in the first place; thus, you have surrendered your right to be defensive. More importantly, if you deny yourself the opportunity to be defensive before presenting your work, you’ll be less inclined to formulate arguments against the criticism. Instead, you might actually listen and become a better artist.
It’s never easy to take criticism. But it’s absolutely necessary to improve your craft. Let’s summarize: take what you want, and leave the rest; don’t take criticism personally; and do not try to defend yourself. These three points will help you get the most you can out of peer responses. And seriously, if you only desire praise, take your work to someone who won’t critique it.