A writer's best friend and their worst enemy, feedback is a necessary evil, because if all your work exists in a feedback-less vacuum, it becomes a lot harder for you to improve. All of us need feedback. Unfortunately, we don't always receive the feedback that we need.
Yesterday, I received a rejection from an agent who has liked my work in the past, but has yet to sell anything for me. It was a two-page email full of notes for my manuscript and on first read, it was a serious punch to the gut.
I know, as humans, we don't always acknowledge praise and criticism with the same fervor, so, I try to receive notes like these in a constructive, distanced way. In this case, I applied a technique that has served me well. First, I leaned on supportive friends who assuaged my fears that I'm a terrible writer and I should just give up now, before I write another wretched word. Then, I took the whole two pages of notes and dropped them into a rudimentary chart, classifying them as one of three things:
GOOD, BAD, and CONSIDER
(not to be confused with the good, the bad and the ugly)
All the information and feedback housed in that gut punch letter could fall into one of three columns: nice things and compliments to my writing fall under GOOD. Criticism, insults and honest facts that are very hard to hear (ie. I don't think I can sell this) fall under BAD and questions and suggestions land in the column marked CONSIDER .
Once I've organized the other person's thoughts, it can do several things:
1. I can just focus on the GOOD and ignore the other columns. If I need an ego boost I can look at my own personal highlight reel delivered as feedback from the lips of someone else.
2. I can address the items to CONSIDER without having to acknowledge whether the person giving the notes in question thought my writing overall was either bad or good. They're simply questions someone raised, answering those queries might improve my writing.
3. I can wallow in the things said in the BAD column... a little. I take note of how many things someone actually said that were truly BAD and, objectively, were they as bad as I initially thought? It's amazing how many times one bad sentence gets compounded in one's mind over the course of a whole email. But, unless both the other columns are empty (and if they are, why are you taking feedback from this person), I have to acknowledge, things probably aren't as bad as they initially seemed.
4. Lastly, I can give myself time to reflect and not take the any of the thoughts (GOOD, BAD or CONSIDER) so personally as I methodically list the ideas in their rightful places in my chart.
After I take the time to move past the reflexive feelings of rejection, I start to understand that something that started as a gut punch might give me something valuable to help me move forward and to acknowledge I'm pretty lucky that someone took the time to give me detailed notes and suggestions. With a little love, support, and chart-making my ego can take it, and hopefully, my writing will improve.