There are so many people writing about how to critique other people's work, but a scant amount write, in my opinion, on how to receive critiques. So permit me a few minutes to contribute to the dialogue.
When I was in college, a fellow student walked up and said: "Read my paper and tell me what to change. It sucks." I looked at him and looked at the paper. I asked if he were sure he really wanted the feedback. He insisted he did. I took my pen and X-ed out four or five paragraphs, made numerous scratch marks in others, and then handed the whole thing back to him.
He looked upset.
The lesson he should have learned is: "If you don't want people to give you feedback, then don't ask for it." The lesson I should have learned was: "While many people ask for feedback, want they really what is applause and unconditional approval."
I never learned my lesson. I doubt that student learned his.
I have been in numerous writer's groups and I have found the feedback experience repeated on numerous occasions. In one group a rather irate woman who fancied herself a poet wagged a finger at me and said: "What right do you have to critique someone else's work?" I smiled and responded: "I'm a reader."
Obviously a person giving feedback strictly as a reader is going to have a different perspective from a fellow writer, but I would argue that the reader's point of view has significance. After all, who are you writing for?
In another writers' group [ where people seldom actually wrote] three people were voted to edit the submissions for a would-be anthology. Those three people would work independently and make comments to the author about what would be needed to make his or her work acceptible for publication by the editorial board. The response? An unhappy group of would-be writers who felt personally attacked. Or to quote one author: "This sucks! You don't know what you're talking about!"
So, if we all agree that critiques should point out the positive as well as the negative; that they should be specific about what can be improved; and that they not in any way be personal---then what can we then say about those receiving the critiques?
Don't personalize. While you may have poured your heart and soul into a story, you owe it to the person reading your work to assume that it isn't a personal attack. If you don't trust the person doing critiques, then either don't give him access to your work or ignore whatever is coming out of his mouth.
Pick and choose. Only you know what your intention is when you write. It could be that the person critiquing is totally off base. It could be that person doesn't like the sort of writing you do; it could be that person isn't your audience. If that's the case, maybe accept what they may have to say about grammar and discard all else. Pick and choose.
The Three People Rule. If you have three people telling you something about your work, and they arrived at their conclusions somewhat independently---listen to them. For God's Sakes.
If three people tell you that you're an ass, then start looking for that tail.
Thank Your Critic. You asked that person to look at your work. YOU. It doesn't matter what they said, they took the time to read and make comment. That has to count for something.
It's Still Your Work. One woman whose short narrative had at least six different points-of-view looked in horror at me when I suggested that she narrow the points-of- view to one person. "If I make the suggestions you want, it won't be my work." It's your work, people. Even if you change things around and radically tear it down and rebuild it...it's your work.
People let me promise something right now, if I submit a work and an editor asks for dramatic changes, I will probably do whatever is asked without question. I don't care. Call me a whore. If I don't want to make the changes...then I can take my work somewhere else.
Critiquing other people's work and having your own work critiqued is essential to a writer's development. By critiquing someone else's work, it helps you reframe your own writing by seeing the craft through another person's eyes. By having someone read your work, it allows you to get other perspectives and to question ways you are doing things, not necessarily to say that something is wrong but how that something might be better.
One extremely unpleasant woman, who is a member of one of the groups, leaned over and at the mention of critiquing, responded: "I don't like critiquing. I don't want to put my work up there for people to pick apart. I've had nothing but bad experiences." After reading her work, I can understand why. Still, even that person could have benefitted had she chosen to break out of her shell and tried to forge ahead. The responsibility is on the writer, not the critic. The critic can only make suggestions or offer feedback, the writer is the one who decides how to handle it.
Anyone who writes and expects to be published had better be willing to write, rewrite, and edit their work according to feedback from others, and most importantly according to that internal critic. And finally, they had better develop a thick skin.
The reality is that people submitting their work for publication will often receive several rejection letters.
Lots and lots of them.