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Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - The Destructive Impact of Taking Critique Personally

Receiving feedback on your writing can be an emotionally charged experience. It's only natural to feel some level of personal investment in the stories and worlds you've poured your time and creativity into. However, taking critique of your work as a personal attack can severely hinder your growth and confidence as an author.

When every piece of constructive criticism feels like a dagger to your ego, you're unlikely to extract any value from the feedback. Instead of assessing the commentary objectively and determining how to improve, you'll simply feel the sting of being "attacked" and dismiss the critiques out of hand. This instinct to protect yourself leads to a closed, defensive mindset. You might even convince yourself the feedback is unfair or overly harsh instead of acknowledging any valid points.

Furthermore, this tendency can breed insecurity about sharing future work. If your assumption is that any critique reflects poorly on you as a person, you'll avoid having your writing evaluated at all costs. But removing yourself from the feedback process stunts your development. And being unable to receive critiques thickens that shield around your ego.

This cycle of hypersensitivity and fear of feedback becomes increasingly destructive over time. Unaddressed flaws remain in your work while anxiety and uncertainty about your abilities fester. You forfeit opportunities to refine your craft because any form of criticism feels like a bruise rather than a chance to improve. Ultimately, taking feedback personally drains confidence and enjoyment from the creative process.

To avoid this fate, you must make an effort to detach yourself from the work being critiqued. Remember that the story or manuscript represents hours of your labor, but is not an inherent part of your identity or value. The critiques address issues in the writing itself, not you as an author. This mindset shift empowers you to assess feedback objectively and mine it for insights to strengthen your skills.

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - Why You Should View Your Writing As a Product, Not an Extension of Yourself

One of the most pivotal mindset shifts a writer can make is to view their work as a product rather than an extension of themselves. This helps create emotional distance from the material being critiqued and reinforces an emphasis on quality.

When you equate your writing to who you are as a person, you take commentary on it far too personally. A critique feels like someone denigrating your very identity rather than providing an assessment of the work. This instinct comes from a place of passion and care for what you create. But it clouds constructive criticism with hurt feelings and knee-jerk defensiveness.

Viewing your writing simply as a product removes this tendency to internalize feedback. It becomes easier to maintain objectivity because critiques seem less pointed. The comments address the story or manuscript, a separate entity you crafted using your skills. Not you as the person behind it. This provides mental breathing room to process criticisms with less emotional entanglement.

Author Alicia Keys describes this transition in her memoir, recalling an early songwriting workshop. "œAfter a few brutal critiques, I realized the songs themselves weren"™t me...They were something I created using my talents, but their shortcomings weren"™t my own." This shift to seeing her music as something created versus something she is was hugely empowering.

Psychologists note that attaching your self-worth to external validation like reviews breeds anxiety. Viewing your writing as an extension of yourself amplifies this. Criticism cuts deeply because it seems to be judging you directly.

This external focus also directs more attention to improving the craft itself. If your writing represents you, then polishing feels akin to sanding parts of yourself down. It"™s far less stressful when flaws in the work carry no bearing on your value as its creator. Refinement becomes a constructive, even rewarding process.

Editor Claire Messud stresses this point. "œI encourage writers to think of their work as something outside themselves which they have responsibility for, rather than it being some essential part of their inner being. It is something you create, hone and shape...not who you are." This distinction has helped many authors not just solicit feedback but truly grow from it.

Ultimately, relating to your work as a product fosters a growth mindset as a writer. Critiques seem welcoming rather than threatening, providing insights to better exercise your skills. And confidence comes from measured improvement of your craft through effort. Not an innate, fixed talent.

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - Developing Emotional Resilience as a Writer

Critique is an indispensable part of honing your craft as an author. But learning to receive feedback in a healthy, productive way requires building emotional resilience. Without it, you may avoid sharing your work or become despondent at the slightest criticism. Fortunately, developing the capacity to absorb tough critiques without crumbling is an achievable goal. It simply takes mindfulness, perspective and experience.

One key is realizing that an initial emotional reaction is only the first step. Writer Ariel Gore explains, "œWhen I get negative feedback, I try to sit with the feeling for a little while, just to acknowledge it. Then I ask myself what I can learn from it." This demonstrates striking the balance between recognizing your feelings without letting them become overwhelming.

It"™s also crucial to maintain perspective when a critique feels harsh. As essayist Tim Kreider puts it, "œGetting a bad review is like having a picnic in the park and getting stung by a bee. It's unpleasant but it's not personal." He stresses that the reviewer usually critiques hundreds of works annually. Your book is just one small part of their job, not some referendum on your value.

Furthermore, many established authors emphasize building resilience over time by voluntarily sharing work. Novelist Monica Hesse says submitting stories to critique groups and colleagues for years thickened her skin. "œI chose to let more people look at my writing, listen to the feedback and tell myself it was making me better even if it hurt." Thriving on critique takes facing the discomfort head-on.

It also requires focusing on progress in your abilities versus validation. Teacher Jonah Lehrer notes, "œThe most resilient artists are fueled by a generative sort of feedback loop, where they are driven more by what they learn from a critique than by whether it seems 'positive' or 'negative'." Keep the bigger picture in mind - you are honing a craft.

Finally, studying the masters demonstrates that enduring intense criticism is part of the creative path. The iconic painter Vincent van Gogh only sold one work during his lifetime. But he persevered through harsh critiques that questioned everything from his mental health to his technical skill. His resilience allowed him to revolutionize art.

Poet Maya Angelou was rejected countless times, even after initial success. She once said, "œEach time I'm rejected, I say 'Good, I'm still out there trying.' Maybe you'll say yes later." This typifies the mindset required to weather storms of feedback without surrendering.

Novelist Patrick Rothfuss, who spent over a decade crafting his fantasy trilogy, cautions against equating critiques to personal attacks. He writes, "œThese are not people who hate you or your work. Generally speaking, they're fans - they like your stuff, and they're trying to help." Maintaining this spirit of learning facilitates emotional resilience in even renowned creators.

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - Cultivating a Growth Mindset Over a Fixed One

A fixed mindset believes talents and abilities are innate and unchanging. You either have creative gifts or you don"™t. A growth mindset sees skills as continually developable through dedicated effort. Your capabilities grow as you practice your craft. This distinction has profound implications for how writers process feedback.

Those with a fixed mindset are far more likely to interpret criticism as a judgment of their innate, unalterable talent. developmental editor Rebecca Heyman observes this often in early-career authors. "œWriters who believe their abilities are fixed get very discouraged by critique. They feel it means they simply don"™t have talent, rather than skills they could improve." Consequently, they avoid sharing works and dismiss most feedback as irrelevant or misguided.

Meanwhile, authors with a growth mindset derive energy from critique. Novelist Rachel Fershleiser says, "œI get fired up by critical feedback because it shows me what I can get better at with more work." She stresses that dedicating time to writing each day strengthens her abilities incrementally. Fershleiser doesn"™t fret over flaws in her craft because she knows they can be smoothed with practice.

This mentality empowers writers to interpret critiques as fuel for growth rather than personal attacks. It engenders openness to feedback from a variety of sources, even those far more experienced. Teacher Jonah Lehrer encourages viewing veteran authors as resources versus competition. "œThe only way to develop real resilience is to put your work out there....then listen to the feedback with an open mind."

Psychologists note that a growth mindset also combats perfectionism. Writer Monica Hesse confesses she used to suffer paralyzing anxiety about the quality of early drafts. Now she tells herself, "œDone is better than perfect and perfect is unattainable." Focusing on incremental progress through critiques has helped Hesse complete more works.

A growth mindset centers the value of learning itself, not one's standing relative to others. Teacher Kelsie Besinger says, "œI promote replacing language like 'I"™m not good at writing' with 'I'm still learning how to write better.'" This outlook is empowering across creative disciplines, from music to mathematics.

Even renowned authors epitomize this ethos. After publishing his fantasy series, Patrick Rothfuss still proclaims, "œI have so much room to improve and grow." Despite his success, Rothfuss maintains a beginner's mindset. He reflects, "œWhen you think you've got it all figured out, that's when you stop getting better."

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - Focusing on the Writing, Not Yourself

A pivotal shift that empowers writers to extract maximal value from critiques is directing their focus onto the writing itself, not their abilities or identity. This prevents conflating criticism of the work with criticism of its creator.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert stresses the importance of this distinction after publishing her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. Despite the book's success, she found herself obsessing over a few negative reviews and taking them as personal attacks. Gilbert says this experience taught her "to mentally disengage myself from my creative works once they"™re finished and decouple my self-esteem from public response."

Many writers are familiar with this tendency to closely entwine their sense of self with what they create. But as psychologist Carole Lieberman notes, "You are not your work. Criticism of it does not define you." Maintaining clear boundaries guards against feedback shaking your confidence or identity.

Brandon Sanderson, author of epic fantasy series Mistborn and Stormlight Archive, intentionally cultivates this sense of separation. He explains, "I have to divorce my ego from my work, treating my books as something different from myself that I can improve." This enables Sanderson to strengthen his writing skills over a decades-long career.

Journalist Leigh Stein also attests to the benefits of mentally separating yourself from your art. When her poetry collection was panned by major media outlets, Stein focused her energy on the next book rather than ruminating endlessly on the critiques. She says, "Letting your creative work exist outside of you allows it to live and breathe."

This is not to minimize the courage required to share personal stories or raw emotions through writing. The act itself remains intimately connected to the inner self. Teacher John Bartholomew notes, "We write from a place of vulnerability. Our voice emerges most powerfully when we embrace that."

However, there is power in avoiding conflating the reception of your work with your inherent worth. Philosopher Rebecca Goldstein asserts, "People are usually complicated and multidimensional, while a book is just one facet on display." Even memoirists and poets should see themselves as far greater than any composition.

Furthermore, a book or article always represents just a snapshot in time. Your skills continue progressing as long as you keep writing. Focusing on improving the craft itself instead of protecting your ego will serve you far better in the long run.

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - Learning to Extract Value From Even Harsh Critiques

Even the harshest criticism likely contains at least a grain of insight that can help strengthen your writing. But when feedback feels like a personalized attack, our instinct is to shut down or dismiss it entirely. The difficulty lies in getting past the emotional reaction to extract objective value from critiques, however bruising they may feel. This ability separates those committed to honing their craft from those who stagnate defensively.

Author Steven Pressfield emphasizes the importance of parsing useful advice from even ruthless critiques. When his first novel was rejected by publishers, one editor called it "œthe stupidest idea I"™ve ever read." But Pressfield moved past the dismissive tone and realized there were legitimate flaws in the narrative and characters. Refining those issues helped make his next book a success.

This determination to find the wisdom buried in scathing feedback extends to renowned creators. Painter Vincent van Gogh remained dedicated to his craft despite constant attacks on his mental state and artistic skill from critics. While clearly pained by the criticism, he still produced over 2,000 seminal works that inspired future generations of artists. Van Gogh managed to filter out the personal attacks and locate occasional constructive notes on technique or style amidst the barrage of negative comments.

Journalist Leigh Stein also stresses the upside of reading critiques of your work that "œmake you want to cry and never write again." She advises pushing past the painful bits to locate any insightful analysis about pacing, plot holes, unclear sections or other issues. Even a short passage on what confused a reviewer can help you pinpoint areas needing improvement. Stein says these moments of useful feedback make powering through the harshest critiques worthwhile.

The key ability is resisting the urge to be wholly dismissive when emotions run high. Teacher Kelsie Besinger encourages student writers to wait 24 hours before deciding a critique has no merit. "œLook at it again with fresh eyes," she says. "œAsk yourself what"™s provable fact you could act on versus just an opinion you can set aside." Time and distance help diffuse the sting and make it easier to extract objective value.

Of course, some critiques are so off-base or rude that they simply hold no value. Prolific romance novelist Nora Roberts cautions authors against overextending effort to locate usefulness in extremely harsh commentary. "œThere"™s no reason to search for gold in all that mud," she says. "œYou"™ll only get dirty." Roberts gives herself permission to discard feedback that seems solely intent on attacking versus enlightening.

But for many writers, even the most piercing critiques can contain wisdom once the wounded ego settles. Teacher Alicia Rahaman recounts working with a student writer devastated by editorial feedback. "œWith time, she saw that beneath the bluntness were some fair critiques about pacing and character development." The student addressed those in revisions while disregarding harsher aspects, ultimately strengthening her novel significantly.

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - Establishing a Feedback Process With Trusted Partners

Having a trusted support network to provide writing feedback can make navigating criticism far less daunting. These partners know you and your goals intimately and offer notes from a constructive place. Their insights feel less threatening and easier to integrate than feedback from unknown sources. But cultivating these beneficial partnerships requires being selective and establishing clear processes to optimize their value.

Memoirist Natalie Goldberg stresses the importance of choosing friends to share drafts with who will be both encouraging and honest. "œI read my work to writing buddies who celebrate what"™s good and tell me directly what needs work." This balance of praise and critiques in manageable doses makes their feedback feel welcoming rather than destructive.

The key is finding readers familiar enough with your style and voice to pinpoint areas for improvement while respecting your creative vision. Novelist Marcy Dermansky says she relies heavily on a few trusted readers who appreciate her "œquirky characters and leanings toward dark humor." Their notes focus on strengthening Dermansky"™s manuscript within her distinctive style versus trying to reshape it entirely.

It"™s also crucial to clarify expectations before sharing any work. Writer Monica Hesse has an agreement within her critique group that feedback conversations be constructive exchanges, not arguments. "œWe can debate word choices but not each other"™s intentions," she says. Defining the tone upfront prevents tensions from clouding the value derived.

For partners like families, psychologists recommend designating set times for giving feedback instead of constant offhand critiques. Author Elizabeth Gilbert asks her husband to share observations only within an agreed upon window once she finishes the initial draft. "œOtherwise my confidence gets worn down and I lose my creative rhythm," she explains.

Gilbert also stresses sharing excerpts rather than entire works with most partners to avoid overwhelming them and dulling their insights over too much content. She may send a few key chapters to each trusted reader. "œIt lets them offer fresh notes on portions they"™re encountering for the first time," Gilbert says, while she assimilates feedback in stages.

The most beneficial relationships allow writers to expose insecurities their work triggers and receive reassurance. Teacher John Bartholomew encourages students to articulate emotions evoked by critiques, even painful ones like self-doubt. "œThe right partners will address those feelings with empathy while still guiding you to improve the writing itself." This care for the creator bolsters resilience.

Critiqued and Confused? How to Separate Your Ego from Your Prose - Remembering Critique Ultimately Makes You a Stronger Writer

At times, receiving critiques on your writing can feel like enduring a boxing match. Each blow of constructive criticism leaves you reeling. All you want to do is curl up on the mat until the fight is over. But just as intense training forges elite fighters, embracing critique sculpts you into a stronger writer over time. The key is remembering that feedback and the discomfort it brings are what will refine your skills if you let them.

Renowned authors often draw on the analogy of steel being forged through fire to describe overcoming harsh criticism. Novelist Sandra Brown was dropped by her publisher early in her career after her books were panned as "œbanal" and "œtrite." The critiques stung bitterly, but Brown pushed forward, striving to improve her romantic suspense stories. Years later, with over 80 New York Times bestsellers, she reflects "œCriticism was difficult but also motivating. It made me determined to perfect my craft."

That determination coupled with an openness to critique allowed Brown to elevate her writing. Even Stephen King endured early rejection letters attacking his work as devoid of plot and originality. At the time, the harshness shook his confidence deeply. But King persevered, analyzing feedback to identify weak areas demanding improvement. He steadily honed his unmatched talent for crafting horror narratives that tap primal human fears.

The collective wisdom of great authors reminds us why we must be receptive to even bruising critiques. They strengthen technical skills, expose blind spots, and fuel growth. Writing mentor Natalie Goldberg urges viewing feedback as "œtension that can refine our work, like the pressure that turns coal to diamond." This perspective shifts critiques from personal affronts to invaluable opportunities.

Cultivating this mindset takes practice. Teacher Kelsie Besinger has students reframe initial defensive reactions by asking themselves, "œHow can this make me better?" Rather than instinctively dismissing harsh feedback, they focus on gleaning any insight they can apply. Novelist Silvia Moreno-Garcia goes a step further, keeping a review journal to track criticisms of her fantasy stories. She notes patterns around pacing, dialogue, and description issues. Moreno-Garcia finds continually improving those craft elements hugely fulfilling.

The path to growth becomes clearer when you center improvement versus seeking validation. Journalist Leigh Stein advises evaluating each critique in context rather than aggregating all feedback as a referendum on your talent. The goal is nursing your skills, not your ego. absorbing insights wherever they arise.

This growth mindset also prevents early success from breeding complacency. Teacher Jonah Lehrer notes that bestselling authors often stagnate because mass praise makes them "œstop listening" to critiques. But lifelong masters continually invite feedback, remembering it strengthens their work and sharpens their craft even after prominence.

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