One thing that any creative has talked about at length with other creatives–or other sympathetic people–is critiques. Great, good, okay, bad, terrible–criticism can run the gamut. Sometimes people really love what we do and sometimes they really hate it. Most often it falls somewhere between the two extremes. Regardless of where the needle lands after someone has consumed your product and is ready to tell you what they think, a creative has to be ready to handle it.
For me, if someone is extremely positive in their critique, I have a very difficult time knowing what to say. Effusive praise always makes me very bashful suddenly and speechless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly flattered and humbled–that’s what any creative wants to hear about their work–but I’m overwhelmed, too. How does one express how elated and joyful such praise makes them?
I always fall back on: “Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”
It’s not that I don’t want to say a million other things or even hug and kiss the person who gave the praise…I just lock up. So, I have a go-to response so that I do not say something stupid or awkward. Maybe there’s something inside of me that always expects bad critiques–low self-esteem buried deep down, possibly?–but that’s an issue I’ll have to work through with my therapist. I know that sometimes I seem aloof or as if I expected the praise when I say: “Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”, but that is not my intention. I simply want to indicate that I received the praise, I’m happy, and now I need to go hide in a corner until my cheeks are a normal shade once more.
On the other end of the spectrum, I feel that I’ve always received criticisms fairly well–as long as it is about the work. I don’t handle personal attacks well and will fight you, but critiques of my actual work are always fine. I don’t love it, but getting feedback is necessary to becoming better at whatever craft one performs. As I recently told a friend who gave me very helpful feedback: “I just want to be better.” Feedback about the work, good or bad, helps me step closer towards that goal. Of course, I’ve always had trouble knowing what to say to bad critiques as well.
It’s hard to know what to say to bad critiques so that you let the person know that you hear them, understand where they are coming from, and are not upset. You want them to know that you appreciate the feedback and appreciate that they cared enough to want you to be your best. I also want them to know that I value the time and energy (and often, money) they put into reviewing my work. It’s just difficult at times to convey that without rambling on or seeming insincere or defensive. This is particularly a problem if I’ve specifically asked a person to give me feedback on something that I’ve written. I don’t want to say or do anything that would make them want to stop giving me feedback.
A few months ago, I was talking to my developmental editor about this problem that I have with not knowing what to say. He asked: “Well, what do you say when someone has nice things to say?” I gave him my go-to “thank you” message. He took a second, then said: “Well, why wouldn’t you say ‘thank you’ for any critique?”
We talked at length, but here is basically everything I realized, in a nutshell.
Just say “thank you.”
When you ask someone for critiques of your work, “thank you” is an appropriate response to anything they have to say. If they give you praise, then they are letting you know you are doing well and are on the right track. If they give you critiques of what can be improved, or talk about things they absolutely hated, they are giving you tips that could make you better. Either way, they are helping you become a better writer.
“Thank you” works for criticism as well as it works for praise.
Of course, there’s always a chance that a person will take this the wrong way and think you are being dismissive. However, people have to realize that criticism has to be processed before someone can respond in an appropriate way. The response doesn’t need to be made to the critic, either. The response comes in the form of deciding to ignore the critique, or going back to the drawing board.
Whether I get high praise or bad feedback, I always know that the real truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’m constantly in my head, trying to figure out how I can be better or what I could have done differently. My own worst and best critic…is me. But I always need time to process my thoughts before I can make appropriate adjustments to what I am doing.
A reviewer or critic has had hours, days, or weeks of reading a book. They’ve had time to form helpful thoughts and suggestions or think of the praise that serves the work best. A creative cannot be expected to do the same thing within the space of seconds.
“Thank you” is good enough.
It tells the reviewer/critic that what they’ve had to say has been listened to and the creative will go find out what they need to do to move forward. The time and energy (and money) spent on reviewing the work is much appreciated, but the creative doesn’t have to sit down and tell you what they are going to do with the critique you’ve given them.
Saying “thank you” is a classy and perfectly acceptable response to any critique, good or bad. It shows that the creative is not going to argue or be defensive about the opinions of the reviewer/critic. So…if someone has a problem with that response…that’s really just their problem.
So, just say “thank you” when you get critique–especially if you specifically asked someone for a critique. It’s not awkward, it’s not rude, it’s not defensive or argumentative, it’s just perfect.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,