Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Handle Criticism

It's every writer's dream to find success in publication, however, be prepared. When you write for publication, you go public. You put your talent, skill, personality on the line and open yourself to criticism. While it's not always easy, here are a few things to help you handle criticism when it comes your way:

Discern whether or not it is criticism. For example, rejections aren't criticisms. They are simply a part of a writer's life. They don't mean your writing is terrible.

Use criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve. If the criticism you hear is valid, then take the opportunity to consider it and learn from it.

Don't get defensive. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and not everyone has the skill to give those opinions without sounding like an attack.

Don't react. Let your critics say what they need to say, but don't publicly respond no matter how much you feel the need to justify yourself. Without fuel to feed the criticisms, they will pass on soon enough.

Don't dwell on the negativity. Negativity isn't worth your time or energy. Don't make it your problem.

Remember it's not always about you. The fern frond image you see above is one I created for a 3D art contest. When I won, I didn't expect the backlash that followed. Many of the competitors felt my image didn't encapsulate the official "Rebirth" theme. Although much of what they said came across as a personal attack, I had to remind myself there was nothing personal about it. They were angry at the judges, not at me.

Be confident. Being confident will get you through many situations in life. Even if you are quaking inside, pretend to be confident. It's empowering.

Have you ever experienced harsh criticism? If so, how did you deal with it?

--
A big shout out to Komal Lewis. I won a $15 Amazon gift voucher in her generous giveaway celebrating 100 followers. Thanks, Komal.


74 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I laughed because it was so absurd!
Sometimes criticism can make us better writers.
And sorry you received flack for that image - it's awesome!

Jeremy Bates said...

Spot on with this blog. My goodness, if we never received any rejections, everyone would be a writer that chose to be one.

Too, you are correct in stating that some criticism can be undeserved. Discernment here is an imperative, rather than allowing ones ego to clog up the thinking filter.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice! I was lucky enough to receive some great advice from a couple of agents. I took a few days to absorb it all. They made so much sense! I've since dumped that ms and am using their advice to make my new one stronger!

Unknown said...

I have received pretty negative feedback in the past, and I did get quite angry about it (in private). Once that was over I simply adapted my way of doing things in line with the suggestions and left it at that. I learned something from the experience and when it comes down to it, that's what really matters to me :)

Stina said...

I won a full ms critique from an agent during an auction. It was harsh (she had nothing good to say other than it had a lot of potential). It was hard to take at first, but I didn't mind. I was already editing it by the time I got her feedback, and I used it to make the story stronger. I guess I more surprised at the depth of the feedback than by the harsh comments (which weren't really all that harsh. Just honest). :D

S.P. Bowers said...

Great words. And I think your picture fits the theme rebirth very well.

DEZMOND said...

love the picture!
Criticism is good only when it comes from trustworthy people.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

At times it is envy that fuels criticism, like the competitors who did NOT win turning around and criticizing your photo which DID win. Simply jealousy, imho.

Luanne G. Smith said...

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion and not everyone has the skill to give those opinions without sounding like an attack."

I try really hard to remember this when I get uncensored feedback. Not everyone employs the sandwich rule of compliment, constructive criticism, compliment. :(

Christine Rains said...

I think that image is beautiful. That's great advice. Criticism is very helpful, but negativity is not. I have one negative fellow in my writers' group and he can be very harsh. I've learned to ignore him. It's hard to do when he's there saying it to your face, but the group itself has helped me so much this past year, it's worth dealing with him to interact with the others.

Michael Horvath said...

I can't agree more with Dezmond. Some people criticize only to make themselves feel better.

Theresa Milstein said...

Congratulations on your 3D art contest win. I think it's striking.

I try to handle critiques well. It's hard. More of the bad feeling is within, but I try not to express it. Once, I entered a contest and one woman was downright mean. I checked her blog and she seemed to just be mean and maybe a bit off in general, but it was still hard to shake it off.

Trisha said...

When I received the harshest criticism I've ever had, I went to bed & suffered from insomnia, and fought off the urge to burst into tears. then I got up and rewrote the start of my novel, and cut out about 6k words or something, words I really didn't need. Naturally I was tired the next morning when I got up for work! But I felt a lot better about my story, at least.

Cecelia Dowdy said...

Yeah, criticism is something that can be hard for us, as writers, to handle. That's why sometimes it's hard for a writer to join a critique group - they can't handle the negative comments about their work. Sometimes the negative comments are justified, sometimes not. This is a thought-provoking subject for writers. Thanks for sharing.

Daisy Carter said...

This is a great post; thanks for writing it. It's such a personal thing we writers do, so of course we get defensive when critiqued or criticized. Your ways of handling it professionally are spot on (and wonderful reminders) for all of us.

Mark Murata said...

One time someone yelled at me in a critique group because she didn't like a minor character in my manuscript. She made it very personal. I just replied in a mild, factual manner.

Tonja said...

Great advice. Perfect actually. But difficult to follow sometimes. :)

Nick Wilford said...

Criticism is always best if it contains something to grow and learn from, no matter how harsh. If not, I'd hope I could still deal with it - everyone is entitled to their opinion. The worst thing you could do is respond in a vitriolic fashion.

T. Roger Thomas said...

If only Thomas Hardy had only worked through the criticism he received, we would have more of his excellent writing today.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

yep, sometimes laughter is the best way to deal with it. And thanks.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

That's great you got such helpful advice from those agents.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Getting angry in private is fine as long as it stays private. I think everyone needs time to work it through in their own way before they can move on. And yes, it's great you learned from the experience.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I agree. Criticism from those we trust has far more weight than criticism coming from anonymous strangers.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

lol, I'd not heard it put that way before--the sandwich rule. Compliments are so important to keep the poor writer positive.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

ouch. There's not a lot you can do about people like that. It's partly why I avoid open forums for critiques.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

wow, 6k is a lot to cut. I can understand why you suffered from insomnia. Sounds like it might have been worth it though.

Old Kitty said...

Great points to remember! It's so easy to take criticism of one's stories personally so I try very hard to grow a very thick skin!

Take care
x

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

The more you put your work out there for others to read and judge, the easier it gets. And your writing will improve in leaps and bounds--even with the occasional unjustified negative comments.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

exactly right. Responding in a vitriolic fashion is also the fastest way to lose a reputation and, once lost, it's almost impossible to get back.

Charmaine Clancy said...

I'm paying for harsh criticism for a manuscript at the moment (actually not harsh, completely fair). I always accept criticism as an encouraging sign, that someone has cared enough to want to help me improve. If we'll only take the praise then we limit our potential.
WaggingTales

Trisha said...

Yes, it definitely was - painful at the time, but it definitely 'lit a fire under my butt' as the saying goes. haha

Terri Tiffany said...

I don't usually get angry, I might get discouraged for a day for so and then usually understand why the criticism was given. The person is usually right and I am more disgusted with myself for not seeing it.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I have one crit partner who is TOUGH. I always want to be told how brilliant I am, but I know she's tough on me because she doesn't want to waste my time and is making me a better writer. So I grit through her critques. LOL

Talli Roland said...

These are great tips. Criticism can be so hard - especially if it's done in a public forum, like Amazon. It's taken me a while to toughen up.

Suze said...

'Let your critics say what they need to say, but don't publicly respond no matter how much you feel the need to justify yourself.'

I think this is wise.

Ben said...

Lynda, may I add another one?

Keep Perspective: Sometimes your critic just isn't into what you do. If you write sci-fi and your crit-partner is into John Irving, he's going to get annoyed at a lot of things. Keep in mind what you want to do and who you're writing for. Not all criticism is valid, even when positive.

Spanj said...

Great advice. To get over criticism (and this works for a lot of other issues in life too), I get a blank piece of paper and write my response on that. Then I shred it. I get to exorcise the feelings without making my response public.

Coral Anders said...

I'm going to admit that I am a human being. Criticism is a clever way to piss me off, and everyone who criticizes me is - in my humble opinion - a big meany poopy-pants! So there!
But about a half an hour later I remember that I'm an adult, and I think about what the critic said objectively and try to analyze if this criticism is of practical use to me. Most of the time it is.
So to all of you big meany poopy-pants out there: Thank you! You'll never really know how many of you I secretly appreciate.

scribbleandedit.blogspot.co.uk said...

Great pointers. i've been through the whole gammit over the past 3 yrs and feel i have setled in a better place now and realise how to handle it better. I did get some really nasty criticism which was very personal when I joined a forum that rated each others' writing. I decided it wasn't for me as the members seemed vindictive and hugely competitive and so I blogged and have had much better feedback and support, which has helped my writing mature.

anthony stemke said...

Your post was excellent. Handling criticism can be difficult, depending on the individual. You have to be strong and look for a positive way to improve on what was said.
Some people are weak and the criticism turns them off to the point where they quit.
Others have good content but refuse to show it, which is just as bad.
Reading what you have written is good for everyone to do.

Meradeth Houston said...

I'm totally going to have to bookmark this post. With my novel coming out soon, I'm scared to death to face the criticism. Not that I'm especially thin-skinned, but the thought is terrifying!

Loree Huebner said...

Great reminders, Lynda.

It always takes my mind some time to wrap around criticism. I used to get defensive, but not anymore. I now understand how to use it to my advantage - to take and learn from it.

Carol Riggs said...

Sometimes for major/severe criticism, I get discouraged. But after a few days, I either figure out a way to make the changes I need to, or else let it go. I LOVE that photo! It's awesome. :)

Stacy S. Jensen said...

When I worked at newspapers, I just got used to the criticism. People took ownership in their newspaper. Sometimes, they just didn't like the direction the people who actually worked there took. The good always outweighed the harsh criticism.

Denise Covey said...

Wow, people actually did that when you won! It's a great image and you're very talented. Criticism can be hard to take when it's not given constructively. I always try to do it that way. Destructive criticism is just that. But as writers we put ourselves out there and just have to take it on the chin. I just smile these days, and mean it. Used to hurt once. Not now.

Denise

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I've received some pretty harsh criticism on my graduate work, which is always difficult to deal with; it's difficult because it comes from professors that I respect and admire. But I've also received some unfair criticism on my fiction writing. Once in a writing class that I took, a girl accused me of plagiarizing someone else's novel, which I never did; the irony was that someone else in the class really did plagiarize a story, but no one figured it out, not even the teacher. I didn't even realize it until months after the class ended, when I read the original story that the "writer" stole.

Anonymous said...

Great pointers... at first it always hurt... can't change that, but I time away always helps.

Anonymous said...

That's a great image.

Criticism stings at first, but I listen or read on. It may take minutes or days for me to be able to work the criticism in my favor and use it to improve my work.

Personal attacks are another story. The only thing I've learned from them is to stay away from negative people.

Joanne said...

Criticism does sting at first. Eventually I accepted it, and realised that everyone has an opinion, come from different backgrounds and have different values. And sometimes they come up with some real gems that are helpful and for which I'm always grateful. But some do attack you if their own writing isn't going so well. They are the negative ones I intuitively sense and yes, stay away from. And I always request feedback (if I need it) for my writing rather than have someone barge in and throw their weight around. It happened once but not in blogging!
Great topic and good advice. I'm bookmarking it, too!!

Rachna Chhabria said...

The image is awesome. Criticism is a part of a writer's life. We should take it with a pinch of salt. Harsh and over criticism is a huge turn off.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I love critiques like that ;)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Yep, that's another great tip. You are so right. Often critics don't understand your work or are just not into it. We can't please everyone.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I need to get myself a shredder ;)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

You comment made me laugh out loud.
And yes, those critics do make us stronger.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

hahaha, best kind of fire ;)

Anonymous said...

I take critcisim in stride as most of it is justified from the writers point of view, I haven't had much harsh criticism. A few jokers here and there. But I don;t worry about what they say as they soon go away.

LTM said...

Hmm... I'm trying to decide if I've ever experienced "hard" criticism. I've gotten some serious, long and involved feedback that required major work on MSs before. But I didn't think it was hard b/c I saw the point. I guess it can be hard if it's like you're saying where it's unfair--where the contestants were mad at the judges. To me, that's hard. Jealousy is the worst. Great tips, Lynda! :o) <3

Southpaw said...

I learned how to do all those things as an art student, but I fear I will have to relearn them when it comes to writing.

Nancy Thompson said...

This is so timely for me. While I haven't had anything judged or reviewed yet, that will be changing later in the year. And though my skin has toughened under the scrutiny of agents, I'm not so sure how resilient it'll be under the microscope of the reading public. I gotta say, I'm nervous, even though I totally get the subjectiveness of the business. Everyone has a little Sally Field in them, including me!

Tyrean Martinson said...

That picture is beautiful! Yes, I've come under heavy criticism and it's tough. I learned how to "smile and nod" with the help of one of my writing teachers, even if I disagree with the critique I've been given.

Susan Fields said...

That fern frond image is beautiful! Great advice here - I think one I really need to learn is that rejection is not criticism.

Mark said...

That's crazy you got some neg vibes off people. Def shouldn't be getting that..boo on them:)

Sarah Tokeley said...

The only criticism I have received so far has been extremely constructive so I can't say for sure how I would react, but one thing I know without doubt is that I will never publicly comment on it. That way madness lies :-)

Jessica Salyer said...

Thank you so much for this great advise. It's hard not to take it personal, when it's your passion that's being critiqued. Turning into something great is the point. I love your image and think it's beautiful. :)

Anonymous said...

Great tips here Lynda.
When I receive harsh criticism I cry..... Yep
And the I move on

Jai Joshi said...

These are great tips, Lynda. One thing I always remember is that you're not going to please everyone no matter how much you might wish to. It's just not possible.

Jai

Romance Reader said...

Thanks for this post Lynda. We have to accept it to move forward, but why is it hard?

Riya.

Komal Kant said...

I've had to toughen up because my manuscript has been out to several people and I have been anxiously waiting for feedback. I know it's not personal and I want to make my story the best possible, so I take a moment to stress out and then get on with the job.

It's part of being a writer and, it may not be much fun, but criticism (positive or negative) is what is going to make our writing better.

Nas said...

A great post, Lynda. I've met some aspiring writers who gave up after getting the first crtique of their work.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

It's because writing is so personal for us.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Initially it's tough, but it does get easier to deal with. However, none of us will never be immune.

Nick Wilford said...

Just wanted to let you know I've given you the Sunshine Award. Pick it up at my blog! :)

Shallee said...

I'm usually fine with constructive criticism. But when I just get nastiness, I have a hard time with that. Luckily, I don't get that very often-- most people are too nice to be nasty. :)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Thanks so much!