A few weeks ago, I accomplished two firsts as I writer: I submitted a story to a literary journal and I received a rejection letter from them. I can’t say I was not disappointed by the second, but I am not discouraged or dissuaded in my journey as a fiction writer.
In the rejection email, which I did not expect to receive, the editor mentioned he could offer some critical feedback on my story and why it was rejected if I wanted. Knowing this was a rare opportunity, I quickly shot back an email thanking him and asking for his criticism. A few days later, he sent an email outlining some of the areas to improve in my story, and now I have fresh ideas on areas to rework in my story.
None of us enjoy receiving criticism, but the benefit of criticism is not about the enjoyment. If my goal is to feel good in the short-term, I should not seek out criticism. But if I want to progress as a writer, if I my aim is for long-term development, I need people to critique my writing and tell me their opinions, specifically what needs to improve. It is from others that I best learn what my strengths and areas of growth are. My greatest moments of development as a writer have always come as a response to feedback from others on where my writing needs work. My critics were able to offer me new perspectives and ideas I had not thought of. Perhaps, if given enough time, I would have made these same discoveries on my own, but either way the criticism sped-up the process. It may not be easy to have people tell us what needs improvement in our writing, but such feedback offers us the opportunity to grow.
Another major challenge to receiving criticism is making sure we are seeking out good criticism. This can be the disadvantage of working with other writers and people who are not familiar with your genre. Fellow writers may be happy to share their ideas, and we should welcome this, but we should be careful that our friends are offering advice on how to improve our story and story-telling skills, not rewriting our stories into their stories. Likewise, others who are not as familiar with our genre may give their honest opinions, which can be helpful, but it will not be as effective as the perspective of someone immersed in our genre. This is when it may be valuable to hire an editor who specializes in your genre. With this background knowledge, he or she will be able to offer advice related not only to writing or storytelling, but your story’s genre and style. Our job, when seeking criticism, is not only to listen to the feedback we are offered, but to also sift through the criticism and sort out what to incorporate and what to set aside.
For example, some of the feedback I recently received on my story fit more into the genre of literary fiction rather than high fantasy. It was fascinating to see how the editor suggested adapting my story, but I do not plan to follow this specific advice because my goal is not to write literary fiction.
In order to improve as writers we need to seek out good honest criticism. My dedication to my development helps me overcome the uncomfortable nature of criticism. I am happy to have tried and I will definitely keep trying.