The first time someone critiqued something I had written, I cried.
It was a sophomore level creative writing class at my university, and I brought a story that I was nervous to share because it was fictionalized version of something that had really happened to me. We got into critique groups of four people, and I began to read my story to the group, my nerves bubbling into my shaky voice and even shakier hands.
When I finished, they proceeded to tear my story apart. "Not believable," the girl to my right said. "What was the point, again? It seemed like there needed to be more," the grungy guy across from me commented. The last girl left pointed out most of my glaring grammatical errors that a 5th grader at any elementary school could have caught.
I sat there, feeling like they had all taken bats to me and beat me senseless, and then began to defend my story. Of course Grunge Guy didn't like it-- he wrote action/murder stories and this was a romance. Not believable?! It happened to me (I wished later that I hadn't divulged that personal tidbit of information, because then they just felt sorry for me). I had no argument for my grammar, except that Word hadn't underlined the problem areas in green squiggly lines. Pride held my tears in check until I got home a few hours later and finally let it all out. They hated me. They hated my writing. I was the worst writer ever. Why try?
I eventually managed to crawl out of the self-pity mire (with the help of a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream and some really cool roommates) and began my rewrite.
Today I was reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and he said something that made me recall this experience. He was on a football team when he was young and the coach was really hard on the team, him in particular. After one practice, the coach was especially critical of Pausch and how he was playing:
"'Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn't he?" the assistant coach said."
" I could barely muster a 'yeah.' "
" 'That's a good thing," the assistant told me. "When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you.'"
I love that no one has given up on me.
Since my first experience with being critiqued, I've learned a few lessons.
1. Don't take things personal. They are critiquing that particular piece of writing, not me as a person.
2. Don't defend my work. Just listen. I may not agree, but that's okay.
3. Keep an open mind. Be willing to listen and change the story.
4. Have confidence in my work. Don't assume that just because it is being critiqued, it's horrible.
5. Remember that my critique partners are there to support and help, and they have my best interest in mind.
Now, I anticipate my critique sessions because they have made me a better writer. (Though, a nice, healthy scoop of chocolate ice cream can still help get me through those rewrites that inevitably follow a productive critique session.)