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How to Deal with Criticism

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

As writers, we are always faced with criticism. When the nature of a job is to create something, someone out there will always have a “better” way to do what you did. Sometimes people will be nice in how they present that feeling, most other times, people will be less than kind. Hearing the latter type of criticism is hardly ever fun.

This is especially difficult to deal with when you put so much time and effort into creating something that you really enjoyed. But again, it’s part of the job. You will need to have a tough skin and learn to recognize the difference between constructive criticism and hurtful comments and which of those things are worth listening to.

Once you learn what people you should listen to and develop that filter, you will be a lot better off.

There’s a Difference between Criticism and Comments

There are dozens of reasons why someone might not like what you created and many of them have nothing to do with you or your writing style. Just because one person doesn’t like something doesn’t mean that what you made is bad. Not everyone has the same tastes. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it is bad, just that it is not for you. The same is true for everyone else.

We all have different things that we enjoy, and everyone knows this. We all have people in our lives whose recommendations mean the world to us, and others who we don’t agree with at all. If one person recommends a movie, you know you’ll love it because you have similar tastes. Whereas another person could recommend the same movie and you could suddenly have second thoughts about it.

You have to apply this thought process when receiving criticism and comments about your work. Some people are worth listening to, others, not so much. Some will provide you with sound advice to help you make your story better. Others will just spout means things and try to disguise it as criticism if they are kind.

Some people like to say they are just giving constructive criticism, but that isn’t always the case. Actual criticism will point out a flaw, explain why it’s a problem, and can help you begin to figure out how to fix it. Mean comments will say they don’t like something, and that’s it. They provide no reasoning for why they don’t like the thing and don’t give you any idea of how to possibly fix the thing.

Recognizing this difference can help a writer keep their sanity.

Everyone Has Ideas but They Aren’t Always Right

Knowing and understanding your audience can help you determine what to take to heart. Some people may honestly be trying to help, but their vision of your writing may not match up with yours.

Look at pretty much every fanfic ever.

Even if the person meant well, listening to their advice and comments could actually harm your writing more than help it by removing you and your voice from your story. You have to be able to recognize your voice and know when or when not to listen to someone else.

You know your story better than anyone and, to a great extent, know what will and will not work for it. You might have a specific reason for writing something the way you did. Maybe you were foreshadowing something, and changing it would ruin things, but the commenter doesn’t know that yet.

It all boils down to the fact that it is your project, and you get the final say on everything. This doesn’t mean toss aside all criticism, just think about them all carefully before reacting. Sometimes people might be right, and sometimes they might be wrong and you are the only one who can make that decision for your writing.

The Best Kind of Criticism

The truly fun type of criticism comes from people you know and trust. This criticism comes from places like a writer’s group, your editor, and any beta readers that you might have. These are people who you know well and so you trust their input. These people are familiar with your story and what you are trying to achieve with it. These are the best people to receive advice from, but they can be hard to find.

Family isn’t always going to be willing to help for any number of reasons. Chances of having another experienced writer in the family are slim. Even if you do, they may have very different tastes than what you are writing.

This is where writer’s groups come in to help out. They can introduce you to a lot of writers who all have varying levels of experience and vastly different interests. It takes a long time to get to know someone and build trust with them, but once you do, it’s worth it.

This can also lead to some fun where they are honestly trying to help but sometimes forget their own advice. I’ve had pieces where the big takeaway was that I used “was” too many times and the person was right. The minute I searched for was and dozens of words got highlighted on the first page alone, I knew I’d made some mistakes. What was funny, is that the same person who told me I’d used too many was, their first correction of my piece was to modify a sentence by adding another was.

Side note: As a general rule of thumb, keep an eye on was. It’s a sure sign of passive voice, meaning the sentence can often be rewritten to something stronger without the was.

It Comes with the Job

Being a writer isn’t easy. You have this amazing story in your head, and you have to get it out, which takes a lot of time to do. Then you have to edit and re-edit it a couple dozen times, and then you put it out there for the world to see and hopefully enjoy. Then someone comes along and they don’t absolutely love the thing you created, the thing you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into, and that hurts.

But it’s part of the job. It’s bound to happen. Which, luckily means that there will also be someone who absolutely loves your work.

Everyone has opinions and their own unique tastes. You can’t fault someone for not loving your creation when it didn’t align with their tastes at all. You can’t control that. Don’t take their comments to heart in these instances and keep writing for the people who do love your work. Primarily, write for yourself.

Of course, this is all easier said than done, but we have to try.

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