It happened. The thing you’ve been dreading, avoiding, secretly praying will pass you by forever. Negative feedback. Maybe it’s kindhearted constructive criticism (OUCH) or maybe it’s a scathing one-star take down of your entire book (FUCKING OUCH OW PAIN). No matter what form it takes this kind of feedback is hard on you.
I know this, because I recently got my very own negative feedback. I enter every unfinished manuscript I write into RWA chapter contests for judging because apparently I really enjoy pain haha wow. —No, I enter for the honest critique (which I GOT, thanks a lot past me, thanks for making BAD DECISIONS) plus the slight chance that I’ll place in the top three and the editors/agents judging the final round will see my manuscript.
Anyway, what I’m saying is I know the sting. And I know what this occasion calls for. EMERGENCY FIRST AID. That’s right. Rush in the medics. Call a code blue. Without any shame, I will plant my wounded ass in the emergency room chair and refuse to leave until I get some treatment. When this kind of feedback lands on you, if I could, I would rush over with fluffy blankets and hot tea and a baby otter for cuddles. Since I can’t, here is a first aid guide and a big digital hug.
1. Deep Breaths
First thing, breathe. I’m generally sucking in air because I’m going to let out a good long string of expletives, but you should take a breath because it’s actually therapeutic. Science says so. Deep breathing tells your brain to turn off the fight-or-flight threat response triggered by criticism.
2. Treat Yo Self
Exposing your work to criticism in the first place was a brave, ballsy move. GO YOU. YOU ARE BRAVER THAN 90% OF THE OTHER ANXIOUS MONKEYS OUT THERE. So take a free afternoon and nap in your pillow fort. Finally buy that book on your wishlist. In whatever way works for you, make sure to reward yourself for being so awesome.
3. Raise Shields!
Yes. Just like Star Trek. Place your arms at a starship captain angle beside you, look all brooding, say ‘Activate shields! Make it so’, and then stroke your chin thoughtfully. You’ll feel about 67% better immediately, I promise. Then open up your Special Shield Folder. This could be physical or digital. Either way, this folder is stuffed full of good things related to your writing. Positive feedback, contest wins, emails from beta readers, anything and everything that reminds you how much others like your writing.
4. Run Away
Oh god get out, they’re coming and they’ve got pitchforks, RUN! SAVE YOURSELF! ABORT MISSION, ABORT! No, I’m sorry, that’s just me freaking out. Really what I mean is, go outside. Close out whatever you’re reading that has the negative feedback, leave it there (NOT TODAY, SATAN), and walk away. Go get some fresh air, remember to do that breathing thing, and clear your head a little. A touch of sunshine will make you feel a lot better about life, the universe, and everything.
5. Starve the Haters
Those nasty little demon trash pandas of self doubt will start chittering away when bad feedback comes. They get all validated by every harsh word, no matter how necessary the word might be. And they’ll try their very best to completely drown your confidence in an ocean of ugly whispers. Don’t let them. Go full viking on their asses. Talk to a close friend, re-open your Special Shield Folder, read encouraging articles, listen to ‘This is Me’ on repeat, reach out to other authors for help. What do demonic trash pandas know, anyway? NOTHING. That’s what.
6. Have Fun
This is definitely the time to fall back on your favorite form of comedy. Specifically, go watch something that makes you laugh. Now is not the time to catch up on your Dr. Who episodes, sorry, because STEVEN MOFFAT IS A PAIN GNOME WHO FEEDS ON OUR TEARS AND FINDS SORROW DELICIOUS. I’m just saying. One video that always makes me laugh until I cry is Tim Conway telling the elephant story on the Carol Burnett show. This is an outtake because he destroys his cast mates but Vicki Lawrence goes ahead and ANNIHILATES them, including Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke. If you can get Dick Van Dyke to fall on the floor laughing you can die happy in the knowledge that you’re the funniest person in the universe.
On a related but slightly different note, you can read How to Survive the Querying Process; Or, Being a Stubborn Ball of Rock
And remember, you’re awesome.