Learning how to reframe criticism can help writers truly improve.
A lot has changed since I entered the landscape of professional writing — industry trends, shifts in consumer behavior, the rapid evolution of technology. One thing that hasn’t changed is the review process. Sometimes I am truly astonished by the number of people (many I’ve never heard of) granted permission to judge, comment on, and contribute to my work.
While collaboration with teammates and clients can be engaging, the scrutiny can take its toll. The standard advice to writers is to not take criticism personally. It’s the right advice, but it can be light on the how.
Here are some practical tips on how to feel less deflated and more empowered in the face of revision.
Consider other perspectives
It’s a good practice to assume positive intent on the part of your reviewers. They’re not trying to hurt you; they’re trying to make the piece better. Remembering this can help you keep your cool.
It’s also good practice to remember that:
- An editor’s job is not to scold the writer. It’s to make sure the reader will easily understand your copy. In other words, they’re helping you get your message across.
- Unlike collaboration, where discussion and negotiation can lead to creative breakthroughs, proofreading and stakeholder sign-offs are in place to ensure you have followed the style guide, matched the brand voice, and written to the intended audience.
- Just because you have more time invested in the actual copy than anyone doesn’t mean you have the most at stake in the success of the overall project.
- The reviewer could be subject to unknown pressure and scrutiny, or their review of your copy is one item on a growing list of tasks that never seems to get any shorter.
Getting out of your own head and into someone else’s can minimize the sting of criticism.
Set yourself up for success
It can be overwhelming to open a document to find it strewn with different colored text and comment boxes. Before adopting a defensive posture, do this instead:
- Perform an overall scan of the document and take a mental inventory of the types of edits you face. Consider that not every tracked change is a criticism. (Some, for example, may be basic formatting fixes.)
- Start by accepting changes that are “no brainers” (typo corrections, sentence streamlining), saving the substantive comments for last.
- Focus on the substance of the comment, not the tone. Cataloging your reviewers’ snark is a waste of energy.
- If you are approval-seeking by nature, look for “implied” praise. Seek out places where there are no corrective marks, and assume the reviewer found it not only error free, but also insightful.
Clearing away the clutter can help shift your focus away from the trivial toward what really matters.
Learn from the negative
Sometimes, we may be justified in our criticism of criticism. But overall, sensitivity has a way of clouding our ability to learn from reviewers and improve our writing.
Here are some ways to break through barriers:
- Pay attention to patterns. Are you receiving the same type of corrections on every piece of writing? Are multiple people in agreement in their comments? Take note and make an effort to avoid those mistakes in future work.
- Communicate. If you don’t understand or objectively disagree with a correction or comment, reach out and request a conversation. Sometimes a quick phone call or email can help you address possible misunderstandings or contradictions.
- Understand that sometimes reviewers get it wrong. They lack experience, don’t understand the material, are distracted, or lack the ability to comment with tact. Adapt and move on.
Moving beyond things that create barriers to improvement will help as you embark on a successful writing career. Making a conscious effort to maintain an open and objective approach to critique will give you a better chance of seeing a good reviewer as an essential partner.
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