My boyfriend Brooks (the human above) is line editing my manuscript The Alchemist’s Theorem. He keeps checking in with me to make sure he’s not crossing any boundaries and hurting my feelings. I understand his reservations because I’ve participated in large writing workshops during my graduate program. The way writers deal with criticism is a mixed bag.
After the first couple of workshops, I quickly learned that giving and receiving criticism is a skill you have to learn and hone just like any other. It’s a balancing act between subjectivity and objectivity. But not everyone sees it this way. I’ve watched writers both cut with and get cut by personal opinions.
Receiving criticism was a skill I needed to learn fast. I wanted to spend more time benefitting from people’s opinions rather than recovering from them. Thankfully, my rationale had been well exercised due to self-administered cognitive behavioral therapy. I developed a strategy I refer to as ‘making executive decisions.’
Because I am neurotic, I could spend forever mulling over a piece of criticism about my work. That would be very unhealthy. So instead, I make an executive decision. The decisions are quick. If my impulse says that the criticism is valid and useful I accept it. If my impulse says ‘no I don’t agree’ then I have a moment to justify why. If I can’t then I accept the criticism and kill a darling. If I can then I reject it. And sometimes I’ll reject criticism that will stick around in the back of my head until sometime later when I finally realize that it was valid.
The quick reject makes the process more mechanical for me and less emotional. It keeps me from carrying around opinions that don’t benefit my work. That’s not to say I am immune to cuts. I can recall two moments during my program that cut deeply. However, one person’s offensive opinion got me so mad that I produced a great thesis because of it.
My boyfriend’s edits are stellar and they benefit the manuscript a great deal. So far I’ve only had two executive decisions where I rejected his comments. Otherwise I am thoughtfully accepting everything. He’s a pro and knows how to balance subjectivity and objectivity. And The Alchemist’s Theorem is improving because of it.
That’s not to say I am perfect at dealing with criticism. Sometimes when Brooks is offering his opinion on one of my projects I will carefully consider it with an angry look on my face while making Marge Simpson-like groans.