Dealing With Criticism

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If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake,
lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”
 David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

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When it comes to criticism be a recycling depot not a dump: filter everything, take out the usable bits and create something beneficial rather than taking in whatever is thrown at you and letting it all sit and rot.

Like any creative endeavour, we have a strong personal attachment to what we’ve written, and having someone comment on it can be a significantly pleasurable or painful experience. Here are some things that I have found helpful when dealing with criticism of my written work:

Firstly, before you read any feedback on your work take a deep breath and accept two things:

  1. Not everyone will like your work. Even professional best-selling authors get negative criticism.
  2. Feedback is as much about the person who gave it, as it is about your work (or you) i.e. it comes from where they are at. Everyone speaks from their own life bubble which is made up of their experiences, what they’ve been taught, their personality and even where they are at emotionally at that particular time.

Once you’ve prepared yourself with those two understandings then you will be more emotionally ready to consider feedback on your work and respond to it constructively. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of any criticism you receive:

Take some time: Avoid responding to feedback immediately. You are likely to be quite emotional when you first read feedback and may either miss-read what was written or write an emotionally driven reply that you will later regret. Sometimes going for a walk or watching a movie and having a good cathartic cry can help you see things from a more balanced perspective.

Take Action (or not): Once you have settled with a negative feedback comment, take a considered look at it. Decide whether it has any validity to it and whether there is anything you need to respond to, or take action on. Is the feedback just opinion, or does it contain specific, substantiated points? Recognise that feedback that is opinion based is just one person’s point of view and probably best not responded to in any way by you. Also consider whether the person making the comments is connected to your target audience.  Sometimes someone doesn’t ‘get’ your work because it is not for them.

Alternatively, does the criticism contain information you can use to improve your writing? Hard as it is to have someone point out your weaknesses, see it as a flag for things you need to work on if you believe the criticism is justified. Sometimes after considering a negative comment we don’t think that it is valid, and not all comments will be. It is wise to consider all feedback, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it all as true. If the person giving the feedback has been inaccurate in some way then a calm, correcting response TO THE CONTENT, not the person, may be needed. Sometimes, we just need to let negative feedback lie and do our best to let it go.

Take Away the Positive: While any positive feedback makes you feel good, think about how much weight to assign to it. For instance, a comment from your mum gushing “This is awesome honey, I’m so proud of you. You’re an amazing writer!”, while nice to receive should not be given as much weight as an experienced book reviewer noting “A solid first novel with some interesting plot twists and well-developed characters.” Take note of specific aspects of your work that are applauded such as “this writer is skilled in the art of suspense” or “she writes with a lyrical beauty that suits the fairy-tale nature of her stories”.

View feedback as a tool to help you become a better writer. Take the valid points and use them to identify your skills, and strengthen your weaknesses. Receiving feedback can be scary, but it can also be extremely helpful so put on your big boy pants and dive in!


janineJanine Lattimore has been an avid reader and writer since she was very young.  She primarily writes poetry and children’s literature but has also written two books with a natural health focus and has had several articles published in the Tots to Teens magazine.  Janine currently blogs as  The Happy Homemaker.

One thought on “Dealing With Criticism

    […] Seek a critique: Not sure where the story is going? Ask someone that you trust to be honest to read your story. Be careful choosing people to close to you emotionally (ie: spouses), as if they are a little too honest, it can marr your relationship! I suggest finding a writing buddy, as you can read each other’s work (and writers understand other writers). For help in taking critiques well, we have made a post in the past. […]

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