How To Not Take It Personally

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. 

In theory.

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!

Be sure to read our Kindness Code before commenting.

Look for news coming soon about The Critique MD’s first live webinar course: 

A Whole-Brain Approach to Giving and Receiving Critiques.

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6 comments On How To Not Take It Personally

  • Hey Doc — great post. Thanks. Something I was told a hundred years ago that really allows me to focus on something other than the critiquer &/or difficult suggestions is to have one’s pen out the minute the critique begins, & write every comment down with the full knowledge that all one is doing is writing them down. This allows me to visually focus on writing comments & doesn’t show critiquing pals whether I’m ignoring one comment & valuing the next — every single comment gets written down. Later, in the privacy of my writing space, I can say, “Take that, you buffoon!” & cross out the horrible ideas, consider the rest, & apply the best.

    • Hey, Charlie,
      Thanks for reading and for the tip. That is a fantastic suggestion. What I especially like about it is that the act of writing out all the points and listening like that is keeping a more cerebral, less limbic part of one’s brain engaged. Which will help keep the emotions in check in the moment. 🙂

      I also like how it absolutely does create a reflection of impartiality to what you are hearing.

      Oh, this is so fun!!!

  • Wonderful advice. I find myself writing down every critique. It really does reinforce that “I am in charge of me” concept, puts me in a less reactive mode, and at the same time shows appreciation for the critique received.

    • Thank you, Patricia. Definitely agree that the writing it all down not only shows impartiality but also appreciation. That level of centeredness is a surefire way to communicate to the feedback givers that you are handling their comments fine. That helps to put them at ease as well. Which then all contributes to a solidly productive tone. Wahooo! 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • Like Charlie, I always went into taking notes, serious face mode when being critiqued. Over time, I had learned that without my reactions to feed off of, my fellow writers were more inclined to be impartial in their comments. :O)

    It can also help if the group agrees beforehand on how comments are presented, that for every ‘problem’ there is a positive observation. and that those being critiqued my ask clarifying questions. The biggest agreement should be that critiques help everyone learn, not just the writer whose work is being critiqued. Wording a comment in objective language, as opposed to personal opinion (I didn’t like…), makes all the difference.
    Loved this article — 1st time visitor, referred from Anne R Allen’s post today. Great site!

    • Thank you, Maria. Definitely agree on your note about the important of rules of engagement on how feedback is given. That’s the subject of an upcoming post. 🙂 It is useful to have those written down and that the group reviews them collectively every so often, which is a gentle way to have everyone recommit to the guidelines.

      Also, excellent reminder that critiques are valuable to *everyone* in the room. I certainly have gotten ahas by hearing someone’s feedback on another writer’s work.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Wahoo! 🙂

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