In order to grow as a writer, it’s important to learn how to deal with criticism. We all have to deal with it at one time or another in the form of rejection letters, reader feedback or even some jerk who decides that your misery is his life’s work.
Each time we submit, post, or otherwise send our work out into the big, wide world, we are inviting criticism. This is great; a writer should always encourage and welcome criticism. If it is given correctly, it lets us know what works in our stories and what doesn’t. The problem is that we don’t always get the criticism we need.
Essentially, there are two types of criticism: constructive and destructive. It’s important you learn to tell the difference between the two.
Constructive criticism is the offering of valid and reasoned opinions on the work of others. This is the type of criticism we need. It is the feedback we are asking of our beta-readers, primarily, and our readers, in general. It is the way we learn. So, how do we recognise constructive criticism?
- Can be either negative or positive, but always offers an explanation for the comment (e.g. I really didn’t like character X because he seemed two-dimensional);
- Often comes from people we trust;
- Is about your work, not you;
- Is meant to help us (e.g. if you change X, it’ll be a great story);
- Is usually something we’ve already noticed ourselves (e.g. damn it! I’ve used the wrong ‘its’ again, ‘you do know it should be “it’s” and not “its” right?’); and
- Can be something we never noticed (e.g. isn’t that a scene from Titanic? Why do you keep changing the spelling of X’s name?).
Destructive criticism is the complete opposite of constructive criticism. It exists purely to make us feel bad and the commenter feel better. Anyone who posts their work in a public forum will encounter this form of criticism. It’s so popular, in fact, that it is referred to as ‘trolling’.
- Is often abusive (e.g. ‘this is the biggest pile of shite I’ve ever read’ – Mum, January 2014 (not true, my mum loves my work);
- Is directed at the author (e.g. ‘Call yourself a writer? Why don’t you just smash your laptop?’ – Chris Musgrave, every day)
- Is hard to hear/read.
- Offers no explanation, or advice; and
- Is best ignored.
Remember, destructive criticism isn’t always negative. Someone perpetually singing the praise of a poorly written piece doesn’t help the writer understand the problems with their work and doesn’t allow them to improve. Think of those X-factor contestants whose parents tell them they’re the next Michael Jackson.
How to deal with criticism (or ‘how to deal with morons being jerks about your writing’ – Naomi Harvey, June 2014)
1. Develop a thick skin
You want to write, you love what you write, but you have to accept that not everyone thinks the same as you. We don’t all enjoy the same type of fiction (life would be boring if we did) and what you write may not be everyone’s cup of tea (soy mocha latte for my friends across the pond). Accept that people don’t like it and move on. It gets easier, trust me.
2. Don’t take it personally
So, you’ve just received another rejection letter from the publishing house you had your heart set on. I’m sorry to hear that…now get back to work. Most criticism isn’t aimed at you as the writer and what is can usually be filled under the Ignore the Idiots heading (see below). Writers, editors, publishers, we’re all busy people and we’re all running a business (it might not seem that way to us because we love what we do). If a publisher says what you’re working on isn’t right for them, then they probably mean it isn’t right for them. It does not mean that you’re a failure as a writer and that you should hang up your…keyboard?…whatever. If they don’t like it, try elsewhere but keep trying.
If they offer advice, on the other hand, you’d be pretty stupid to ignore it. You have been warned.
3. Act on the criticism
If people have taken the time to read and comment on your work, you should at least take the time to read and consider their comments (yeah, so I’m a little late in responding to some of mine. Shut up!). You don’t have to accept everything they say, but you should consider it. It’s the only way to learn.
4. Ignore the idiots
This is the best piece of advice I can give you. When God created man, he also created idiots. They are sent to try our patience and do their level best to instil meaning in their own lives by making other’s lives a misery.
DO NOT ARGUE WITH THEM.
That’s what they want. Simply, ignore them. Ignore them. Ignore them.
That been said, if twenty of them all have the same comment (e.g. “you’re gramma n speling sux [sic]”) you may want to mull it over.
What are your thoughts on criticism? Do you have any special ways of dealing with it and those that offer it (remember this is a public forum and anything you say may be used as evidence against you)?