How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer

Any written piece of work you produce means exposing yourself to the thoughts and feedback of others that read it. There is a personal connection between your writing and those that feedback on it and when you receive comments that feel are negative it can make you feel vulnerable, exposed and perhaps in the worst case not worthy to be writer. So how do you manage this and use feedback effectively?

Writing is an ever-evolving art and no one can be truly described as a fully accomplished writer as there are ways to further develop writing skills.

So to start with have an open and evolving mindset on your writing, expect you will not always get positive feedback, but be bold and learn from the feedback you receive. Often negative feedback is of no value, but constructive feedback is very useful and can make you a better writer, especially if you see your writing as a craft that must be worked on.

Writer at work. Handsome young writer sitting at the table and writing something in his sketchpad at home

Humans beings or the more technical term homo-sapiens are hyper social, pack animals that have evolved to constantly jockey for position in the pack and be sensitive to any type of negative input from other pack members. This is part of a survival mechanism that evolved long ago to ensure that we will not be thrown out of the pack – which in the days of the hunter gather was extremely dangerous. This negativity bias persists today, but is often not useful for modern day life and pursuits. However, we can turn it to our advantage as best possible if we detach from negative feedback and see it merely as a learning mechanism. Although this is easier said than done.

We all criticise, often without realising it.

Have you ever eaten a meal in a restaurant and not liked the food or heard a joke that didn’t make you laugh? It doesn’t mean that these things were bad, it just means there is room for improvement, or they are simply not for you.

Every single writer will, at some point, receive criticism. The editing process is essentially this – honing a piece of work to perfect it. It will often involve restructuring, condensing, and rewriting. An inevitable part of sharing your work is rejection. Even someone who has achieved global success, like J.K. Rowling, has experienced it. Harry Potter was turned down numerous times before reaching publication. This seems incomprehensible now, but it happened.

I’ve certainly received my fair share of criticism. One piece of feedback that really stuck with me in my early days as a copywriter was that my writing often sounded too formal. I was so focused on making sure my copy was correct, I forgot that it needed to speak to its audience. I’ve since worked hard on making my writing conversational. So, what seemed initially as a negative comment has actually helped me improve as a writer.

When someone offers you feedback, listen and take on board what they have to say.

Writing criticismBeing defensive is the most common knee-jerk reaction. You’ve worked hard on your writing so it can feel soul destroying when someone’s reaction doesn’t honour that. But take a step back and try to see it from the readers’ point of view. Your work is something that you created in your own head. You may know it inside-out, but it’s possible that you could have missed out some of the finer details that make your story connect with the outside world.

Consider who to approach when requesting feedback.

The right people will genuinely want to help you become a better writer. Unfortunately, there are some people who will just be scathing for the sake of it or unable to admit they don’t know what they’re talking about but try not to take this personally. You need good intentioned honesty that will inspire you. But remember, people have different opinions, so you don’t necessarily have to agree with it.

Is the reviewer also making suggestions on how your work could be improved? It’s easy to point out flaws but trickier to offer resolutions. Writing down feedback will help you to identify any issues which keep coming up and specific areas to work on. Taking time away from your work will help you process what needs to be done and figure out your own solutions. After giving yourself headspace, you can revisit your writing with a fresh approach and make some changes. It’s time to kill your darlings so be prepared to lose parts that you love if it improves the piece.Editing

Ask yourself why you asked people to review your work in the first place.

Being showered with compliments won’t make you a better writer, but learning how to use criticism constructively will. Tune into your empathetic side and think about how you might critique someone else’s writing. Be cautious when it comes to self-criticism as you may be harder on yourself than an impartial reader – but that’s not to say be arrogant. It’s generally a good idea to steer clear of reading reviews when you get published as these will merely be personal opinions. It’s like humour – not everyone finds the same things funny.

But it’s not all about the cons. Listen as well to the positives and lead with your strengths. Remember, you’ve put yourself and your work out there so that’s an achievement in itself – well done!

On a final note:

If you are looking for constructive feedback and support for your writing, The Writers Initiative, also holds open readings where writers read back their work and then receive constructive feedback on it (this written work can be fiction or non-fiction). For further information regarding open readings please see the link here.