Getting your work critiqued by someone else is an essential step on the way to producing a publishable work.
But it can hurt.
Here's your writing - your baby - that you've agonized over for months, polishing it within an inch of its life. It's perfect. How can anyone not love it?
You put it out there to your critique group, expecting nothing but unstinting adulation - the next New York Times bestseller! Agents will be flocking to your door to represent you! Publishers will be bidding six figure advances to snag the honor of putting your novel on bookstore shelves. Movie deals are in the offing ...
What you get, instead, is carping criticism from ungrateful Philistines. Boring! Infodump! Characters flat and uninteresting. Confused - what's happening in this scene? Plot inconsistencies. Disbelief - this character would never do that. Your writing sucks!
It's easy to be discouraged, especially when you get a harsh critique on your favorite scene. It's equally easy to dismiss a painful critique out of hand. Both paths are problematic. Do you want to be a writer, or don't you? Do you want to improve, or don't you? If the answer to both is "yes" then you need to persevere and listen to what others have to say.
This first group of tips is all about coping with that pain, because you need to get past that before you can move on and get real value from the critique.
This is meant to help
Critiquing, no matter how painful, is all about making your story better. It's meant to help, no matter how harsh the comments, no matter how offensively they may be delivered, the purpose is to help.
Keep that in mind. Cling to it, even when the critique seems to be hell-bent on trashing everything you have to say. Even when the critiquer has made it perfectly clear that they are not, in fact, interested in helping but only in showing you how much your writing sucks, they are helping nonetheless.
It just may not feel like it at the time.
Distance lessens the sting
Read, but don't respond. Accept the emotion, but don't try to do anything with the critique just yet. Let it sit a few days (or weeks, or months ... whatever it takes) before coming back to it. You will often re-read with a more objective mind and be more able to decide what to pay attention to.
Another distancing trick is to pretend the writing belongs to someone else. Read what the critiquer has to say as if you were eavesdropping on someone else's critique.
It's only one person's opinion
Give this to a hundred different readers, and you will get a hundred different reactions. Remember that what you are reading is just one person's view, and it's just an opinion. It's not truth, engraved in tablets of stone that you are expected to absorb, worship, then swallow with a glass of milk.
It's not a competition
Whatever you do, don't ever ... ever ... argue with the critiquer. They've voiced their opinion. They are entitled to it. You asked for it, for heaven's sake!
The critiquer is always right, even when they're wrong. If a comment is blatantly, factually wrong, just make yourself a note that it is wrong, and move on. This is not about you versus them. It's not a competition to see who's right. From your end of the deal, the only purpose of the critique is to improve your writing, not the critiquer's.
Of course, it is always good to double-check your facts too. I've been surprised from time to time with things I was sure were correct.
It's not personal
Always remember, the comments are not about you, they are about your story. Specifically this story.
A good critiquer will always make that clear. They will refer to the words on the page, not to you as a writer.
Not all critiquers are good at critiquing. So remember, the comments are all about the story, even if they are worded personally. When they say thing like "Your writing sucks" or "You suck as a writer" all they are really saying is "This specific example of your writing sucks ... in my humble and inexpert opinion."
Some critiquers really are trying to be personal. They've decided to make it about you. Remember, they don't know you, except through the words you've written, so it's still only about the story.
OK, this assumes you don't actually know the critiquer personally. If you do, and this really is personal, then there are bigger things going on. This is no longer about the critiquing process and is outside my territory!
You're the boss
No matter what the critiquer says, no matter how emphatic they are that you need to do things their way, remember ... always ... that you're the boss. You are not obliged to pay any attention. They've given you their opinion, but they have no say in how you choose to use it. The next part is up to you.
So, finally, if you get an especially stinging critique, remember that you have the last laugh. Print it out and use it as toilet paper if it will make you feel better.
Phew! That was a long post. My apologies! More posts to follow on the specifics of processing critiques but I think that's enough for now.