Writing tips: How to handle criticism

Book stacks in shop
Category: Writing

If you’re planning to get your work out there in the world, you’re going to have to get used to dealing with criticism. We’ve pulled together a few of the challenges you might face, as well as some advice for deadling with them.

Friends, family and faint praise

Unless you’re a very secretive squirrel, there’s a good chance your friends and family will know about your writing ambitions – and that they’re interested in seeing what you're up to. Just bear in mind that while the people closest to you may be in a brilliant position to offer you endless support, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily love your work.

Even if they do like your writing, they may not know how much you need to hear ‘it’s the best thing I’ve ever read’. If their reaction is a little lukewarm, remind yourself that they love you for you - and that there may be plenty of other people who'll love you for your writing.

Deafening silence

No one owes you anything

Maybe they asked to read your book when they heard you were writing one. Or maybe you approached a peer or experienced writer and asked for their opinion. Either way, you passed the book over with a smile and fear in your heart as you prepared for to hear their thoughts. And you waited. And waited. And… nothing.

First of all, don’t assume that they hate you or your book. Wanting to read a book isn’t the same as actually having time to do it. It may be that you’re on the top of a teetering To Be Read pile and your time will come. Secondly, remember that no one owes you anything. No one has to read your book, and they certainly don’t have to share an opinion. Be as gracious as you can.

Workshops

The feedback you get in workshops can be invaluable. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to hear – or that all crits you get from a writing group are good. Offering constructive criticism is a skill and not everyone who is in a writing group has it. That means you need to have some sort of system for sorting the wheat from the chaff.

A good way to deal with comments while you’re getting them is to write them down. This gives you a little time to digest and helps to temper the impulse to argue! And don’t forget that the feedback you’re getting is an opinion, not necessarily a fact. However, if you hear the same thing over and over again, there’s probably a nugget of truth to it.

Editors and agents

The criticism you receive from people in the industry is some of the most helpful, and the hardest, to hear. If you’re at the querying stage and you receive an email with feedback, be assured that you’re actually doing very well. Editors and agents are incredibly pressed for time so if they type up comments for you, it’s because you’ve snagged their attention.

All opinions are subjective

Also, while industry opinions are worth careful consideration, they are still subjective thoughts and it’s up to you to work out which ones could be used to improve your writing. If you get news you’d rather not, don’t reply straight away. Meet up with friends, watch movies and generally look after yourself before revisiting the criticism and working out whether it has any merit.

Non-appreciative general public

Once a book is out in the world, it’s fair game for reviewers and readers of all stripes. This can be a wonderful thing, a good review of kind email might leave you walking on air, but it also means you’re in the crosshairs in a whole new ways.

Some writers make it a rule to never read their reviews. That may be too tricky for you, but one rule you should definitely follow is: never reply. You’re not going to change the reviewer’s mind and you’re unlikely to come across well. Scream into a pillow, have a private rant with friends and move on – you can’t please everyone. And, when it comes to writing, you don’t want to either.  

 

If you’re hoping to put together a supportive pool of people to share criticism and feedback with, check out our blog on how to start a writers’ group.

Image credit EliFrances on Pixabay