The stages of accepting constructive criticism, as told through gifs.

We all can agree that beta reading is crucial to the success of a story. Having other eyeballs touch your story, pre-publication, is one of the necessary steps a book goes through. Whether it’s a kind friend who volunteers, a writing group, or a professional editor — the link goes to a good post by author D.E. Haggerty on why she uses editors vs. beta readers — you will be getting some critique at some point. But how does it feel to receive feedback on your precious portion of soul? How should you absorb this step—and the pain which comes with it? What positives come from this?

Well, the process goes a lot like this:

The MS file has been attached and sent to the sweet people who gave me their time, gently released with all of my hopes trailing behind.

Image: 100% accurate depiction of hopes and dreams being released as a swarm of mystical looking blue butterflies. Scene from the end of Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride

While they read—and this takes as long as it takes because they have a life, so I must hurry up and wait and do it with grace—I’m going on with my own life but inside I’m thinking . . .

Image: Calcifer the Fire Demon from Howl’s Moving Castle being moved from his perch in the fireplace, saying “Be gentle with me, please.”

Then one day, an email. They have read the first half or so and have some thoughts. Time to clench up and open that attachment!

Image: Shang from Mulan fiercely opening the song Let’s Get Down to Business by breaking clay pots in a dramatic, attractively shirtless way.

If you have picked people who critique because they truly want you to become a better writer they generally come at you with the compliment sandwich approach. Every beta reader or editor I’ve worked with has been an excellent, caring person who does this.

And you know what? It still hurts. It burns right through my fragile ego like acid. I had this thin, tender rootlet of hope that I had somehow entered the alternate reality where a first draft has only minor, easy fixes and I wouldn’t be stomped with all of my mistakes but the comments come streaming in like a waterfall of rocks and . . .

Image: Castiel from the show Supernatural crying in a heartbreaking fashion next to the words “Nothing is beautiful and everything hurts.”

The first reaction is always a defensive one. I read over their comments and let the pain flow through me, and the next step is to channel Dame Maggie Smith when she’s told that she hates to be wrong.

Image: Dowager Countess Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey looking supremely unbothered after being told she hates to be wrong. Captioned with her sassy response “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.”

Denial can be satisfying for a little while, but real life is still popping up to poke the comfy bubble. I asked for help and I got it. The thought that they might be right keeps nudging as I take a few hours to let it settle

Image: Nathan Fillion demonstrating wonderful face acting as he opens his mouth to argue, considers, thinks, and then closes his mouth again.

It’s time to open that email back up and take another look. I tentatively try some of the fixes, and at first it’s like . . .

Image: Cute otter on a zoo cam trying to fit baby toy stacking cups together. The otter throws them disgustedly aside after attempting to stack. Captioned “You see this? You see this shit? It doesn’t fit, idiot. Thanks for handing me unstackable cups.”

But as I read on and let the advice sink in, it makes more sense every time. This part here drags. That was a badly written dialogue tag. And this sentence is confusing, like they said. This here is too much telling and can get cut.

And it’s making the story better! Wow! Really, they are a font of good advice. All of it is seen through new eyes.

Image: David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor Who looking at a steaming pile of alien machinery and exclaiming, “Oh you are beautiful.”

Newly hacked apart, with innards shining, the improved manuscript sits there steaming and I want to send my critique readers or editor the new version in the entirely mistaken belief that a good reward for their hard work would be to make them read the whole thing again. I don’t.

At the core, what I really want to do is show them I used and appreciate their wisdom. A better way to do that is to send them a thank-you email with a few sentences about how I used their comments and saw real improvement.

I generally leave out the whole angry-denial spiral part.

Now I have a *finished manuscript and I’m ready to start the whole process over again, with another critique reader.

*Wait, what?

Image: Arthur from the animated Sword In The Stone movie, blinking groggily and looking disbelieving, presumably while holding the cup of coffee which will fix both problems.

featured image: and Josh Byers