Don’t take it personally is a common suggestion given to writers when they’re submitting their work for critiques. Intuitively, we get that means not getting caught up in negative emotions—anger, defensiveness, etc.—when faced with suggestions about how to make our story or our writing stronger. Sound advice.
Unfortunately for most of us, there’s a little more work involved to not taking things personally than a peppy pep talk right before our turn that goes something like this: “Okay, Self, now remember . . . don’t take this personally.”
Like most things in life, there are multiple ways to get to Not-Taking-This-Personally Land. Here is a set of tips that I have found helpful. Let’s call these The Critique MD’s Five Tips for Not Taking It Personally. (I know. The originality is killing me, too.)
The Critique MD’s Five Tips for Not Taking It Personally
Step 1: Accept that at one point or another you will take it personally
We absolutely can get better at not taking it personally. But if we start off holding ourselves to a saintly standard that we must never take tough feedback personally, we doom ourselves to failure. We are human, peeps.[i]
Step 2: Monitor and adjust your physiology
Are you aware of where your body holds tension? If not, figure it out. Does your stomach churn? Does the right side of your neck tighten up? Does your jaw clench? Do you get a twitchiness in the corner of your left eye? Does your breathing get shallow? Fast?
Know what your body does when tension is rising and have a plan for how to counteract the effect if that happens when you are receiving feedback. Shift in your seat, take a sip of water, doodle a specific pattern on your notes page, or simply take deep breaths.
This step is all about actively counter conditioning your own stress responses so that you can stay present to the feedback you are being offered.
Step 3: Remember who is in charge of you
The weather is not in charge of you. The person cutting you off on the highway is not in charge of you. Your neighbor, co-worker, spouse, children, or pet iguana is not in charge of you. And absolutely the person or persons giving you feedback are not in charge of you.
And by in charge of you, I mean in charge of your state of mind. So when you are in a feedback session, the moment an emotional whoosh pulls you out of a curious, relaxed state of mind, take a deep breath and remind yourself, “I’m in charge of me. I can handle this.”
Step 4: Remember who is in charge of your story
You are the author of your story. Someone saying that you need to or should change something in your story doesn’t mean you actually have to change it. You get to decide. Let that truth ground you and center you. If something is suggested or said about your story that triggers you, take a deep breath, and remind yourself, “I get to decide if I act on this.”
Then you can return to it later to (a) sort out what the emotional surge was about and (b) consider the feedback in a more balanced state.
Step 5: Manage wishful thinking
We all have a part of ourselves that goes into feedback sessions hoping—fingers and toes crossed—that the reviewers are going to tell us that our novel is awesome, even leaning toward perfect. And if we really let this voice loose, it would spin up a tale that not only is our novel perfect, it’s going to win every literary award on the planet and rake in sales that leave Harry Potter in the dust. Take that, J.K. Rowling!
Uhm, yeah . . . probably best to keep that voice in check when walking into a critique session.
Instead amp up the part of you who loves to learn and is hard-wired to be grateful for suggestions and inputs that will make your story rock even more than it already does.
You’ve got this!
And there we have it. Do you have additional tips that have helped you keep your equilibrium when receiving critiques? If so, definitely share in the comments section. Let’s build up a resource of options and strategies for our fellow writers. Wahooo!
Onward in kindness,
Christine Carron, The Critique MD
[i] I’m pretty sure my next post about receiving feedback is going to be titled something like How to Take it Personally with Panache. I’m very excited about this topic, awesome readers, because getting more adept at moving through our emotional reactions when we are triggered is not only super useful for our growth in writing, but also for our growth in life in general. Wahoo!
Look for news coming soon about The Critique MD’s first live webinar course:
A Whole-Brain Approach to Giving and Receiving Critiques.