January 25, 2016

Commandment #2: Find Your Coping Mechanism

As I mentioned last week, one of the benefits of being part of a good writing group is that it teaches you to cope with the disappointment or even heartache of having your work critiqued.

Photo credit: Simon Collison
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In the moment, you might want to cry, scream, yell, rant about being misunderstood, fight against the criticism, or maybe even give up on writing altogether. And in today's world where every moment is shared through some form of social media, it can be all too tempting to put all of those feelings online, forgetting that doing so makes your private moment very, very public. You don't want to be seen as the egomaniac who is impossible to work with because they believe every word they write is sacred. And you definitely don't want to give up on your dream just because you haven't yet figured out how to pick yourself back up and keep working.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what coping mechanism will work for you, as it's different for everybody. Some writers read their critiques (whether from critique partners, agents, or editors) and then go curl up in a ball, unable to face the criticism of their painstakingly written work—for a couple of days. Then they get up, reread the notes with a little bit less emotion involved so the suggestions don't feel quite so life-or-death, possibly ask some (or many) follow-up questions, and get to work on revisions.

Other writers like to dive in right away, because they want to get a handle on things and not feel like the problems that were pointed out are beyond their control. I had one writer reply within hours to a rather long editorial letter with a step-by-step response on how he planned to address each note. Later I found out that this had been his method of dealing with feeling overwhelmed and a bit despondent over the quality of his draft. But we discussed his proposed revisions and agreed on a direction, and then he was able to do the important part: getting back to work and improving his story, transforming it into the novel it is today.

For some people, like the aforementioned writer, knowing exactly what they're going to do to fix the problem is how they cope. For others, it takes commiserating (privately!) with a close friend or fellow writer, or eating a pint of ice cream while binge-watching a comedy show, or maybe putting the notes away in a drawer and pretending they don't exist for a little while, before they're ready to accept and thoughtfully consider the critique.

Whatever your coping mechanism, the important things to remember are:
  1. Keep it private and off the internet,
  2. Be respectful to the person who put in the time and effort to help you with your manuscript, even if you don't agree with 100% of their notes (which is okay!), and
  3. At some point you have to sit down, take it all in, and get back to work.

What's your go-to coping mechanism? Share in the comments!

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