Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to Understand Criticism

Writing Wednesday

A good friend was recently kind enough to read and comment on my manuscript. She also provided an editorial letter.

It's difficult, of course, to be told that your child isn't the most perfect in the world. It's equally difficult to hear that your manuscript could be improved.

As with most difficult things, one tends to go through the five stages of grief:

Denial - That's not a problem.
Anger - They missed the point.
Bargaining - If I made this small change, would that fix it?
Depression - I can never give them what they want.
Acceptance - Maybe I can if I work at it.

Others have observed the same pattern. What I want to point out is that understanding is usually a part of acceptance. I had a hard time reaching the stage of acceptance with some of the criticism because I didn't understand. Oh, I understood the words and the concepts behind them, but I didn't understand how to make the suggested changes.

And then, on the third morning, I woke up, reread the letter, and I understood. It felt like a miracle.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Writing is the process of encoding thought with marks on a page. Reading is the process of decoding marks on a page into thoughts. There's plenty of room for error in both processes. Because of that, understanding the thoughts of another and how they apply to your own thoughts is hard work. Fortunately, it's the perfect sort of work for your subconsciousness.

So, after all of that, here's the punch line: the best way to understand criticism is to study it and then sleep on it, perhaps for several nights. I suggest three nights because, according to School House Rock, three is a magic number.

Image: Simon Howden /