I talked about imposter syndrome earlier this week, which goes without saying that feedback can be easily taken as personal criticism. After all, there’s nothing more devastating to your confidence than sending out something that you thought was the greatest contribution to humankind, to only get it back covered in red. Although the words I offer will probably not take away the sting, I offer some perspective, which may or may not soften things:
- Were you looking for feedback, or asking for compliments to pad your ego? If you wanted plaudits for your work, then you should’ve sent it off for publication, and not wasted your friend’s time. When you’re asking for feedback, the expectation is that you’re asking for help to make your work better. The editor is doing their job when they give you suggestions, because they probably thought (and expected) that that’s what you wanted.
- Separate personal attacks from helpful critique. I’ve heard horror stories about nasty reviewers who aim for the heart, and say things just to crush someone’s hopes and aspirations. Learn to tell the difference between what’s helpful in furthering your writing, and what’s just plain nasty (and can be ignored).
- Don’t get defensive. Appreciate and be grateful for a reviewer’s time, even if you may not agree with some of their comments. When people get defensive, they rarely listen. Although you may be emotionally upset by comments at the onset, take a moment to breathe, think, and calm down. Again, you need to sift through what’s useful and what’s not – but if you’re being defensive and arguing with a friend who gave you a critical review, remember that (most) people are reviewing because they are trying to help you, and they invested time in you to read what you wrote. If helping means that there will be arguing afterward, then it will probably be the last time your friend will be willing to read for you, again!
- You have the ultimate say in your work. You are ultimately the one who decides what to change, and what not to change. Sometimes, critique is just a matter personal style (for example, I have a friend who can’t stand my dashes), and can be considered on an individual basis. Other times, what they’re saying may be VERY useful (or, in the case of your advisor, absolutely necessary).
- It’s not personal. Bad work is not a reflection of you as a bad person, or a bad academic. Remember that most people who agree to review your work are doing it altruistically, because they want to make your writing better. Now, if that isn’t the case, and you’re getting really horrible comments aimed at your character (e.g., Horrible comments like, “I don’t know why you should be in this field. You should quit now.), then that has NOTHING to do with you, and EVERYTHING to do with the reviewer. Meaning, they are not fit to review. Breathe, gather up your pride, and move on. Don’t let toxic people ruin your promising career when they try to bring you down!
The only way I know of to get better is to continually work at improving your writing. Sometimes, you can write really, really stinky pieces of work (take, for example, every single one of my first drafts). Everyone does, and your work is not you – it’s just what you create at the moment. You are not a failure. You are not a bad academic. You’re GRAD STUDENT. Just continue to push yourself, commit to getting better, and don’t quit!
All work can be improved, but you have to invest the time that it takes to get it to where it needs to be.