It’s a brave person who asks for honest feedback and genuinely welcomes the bad as well as the good. Criticism isn’t for the faint-hearted, particularly if the work you do really means something to you.
But it’s absolutely vital if you want to improve.
I decided I wanted to be a ‘serious’ writer almost fifteen years ago (which shows how long it can sometimes take to fulfil an ambition!) At that point however, the only focused writing I had ever really done was diary-scribbling and helping a friend write an angry letter to his landlord.
I wanted to know if I was any good at stringing words together that other people might want to read, so I joined a six-week writing course to find out.
The feedback I received throughout the course was distinctly lukewarm, and as I left our last lesson, exhausted from my attempts to explain the ending to my latest story (though our tutor did tell me: “if you have to explain anything, the story has failed”), I started to rethink my choice of future career.
Then, one of the other course-ees grabbed my arm as I headed for the door. “You’re good, you are,” he said, “so keep going”.
That was all the encouragement I needed to take the more critical comments on board and try harder. Six months later, my first short story was published.
I then tried my hand at novel writing, completing that hallowed first draft in two years. I was elated as I wrote the final word – the process had taken so much planning, and so much hard work, that surely I’d created a masterpiece?
I did what Stephen King told me to do in ‘On Writing’, and let the manuscript sit in a drawer for a month, before sending it out to five trusted people to review. I couldn’t wait for feedback from my chosen five, though when it arrived, it was crushing.
I was told I had stopped telling the story altogether around half-way through the book; that my characters were one-dimensional and the ending unbelievable. I would have to put in some serious effort, if I wanted to create anything close to a satisfying novel.
I needed a stiff drink after that round of feedback! But once I’d recovered from the hangover I got straight back to work, and that novel is now on its fourth and final draft as I continue my career as a professional writer. It’s a career I love and can continuously improve upon because of all the feedback I’ve received about my writing, from all the kind and honest people who have dished it out.
I suppose the moral for those of us in the freelancing world is this: don’t shy away from people who want to tell you something about what you do, or how you do it. You’ll always learn something (even if it’s just that you don’t like those people very much!), and if you take it all in an open and positive way, you might be able to use that feedback to get better.
Even if it hurts at first, I never mind people telling me that something I’ve written needs a bit more work. Many’s the time a client has told me exactly that, in fact. Usually, the result is that I simply do the ‘bit more work’ needed, and the writing ends up being better.
Not only that, I’m grateful to have had the chance to improve it, rather than a client accepting not-quite-good-enough work just because they don’t want to offend me. Rest assured: you won’t!
And now here comes the test: if you bought my book Procrastinations (described as “the perfect holiday read” by people other than me and my family…just saying), I would be incredibly grateful for an honest Amazon review, whenever you have the time. Thank you.
(*Actually, if you can’t take criticism, don’t start your own business. Whether you’ve solicited opinions or not, you’ll soon know all the things random people like and don’t like about everything from your expensive website to your finely-crafted sales pitch. Just nod along and remember to smile!)