Friday, July 27, 2012

How to Deal with Criticism

For all American Idol Fans :)
We all get it: “Your story is pretty interesting, but I hate the ending.” Or, “Your characters don’t seem real. In fact, they’re quite cliché.” Or even, “I fell asleep in the first five pages.” As writers, criticism is a part of life. Let’s face it: not everyone is going to love your story. So what do you do? Here are a few suggestions on dealing with criticism.

1. Cry and eat chocolate (in moderation). 
  • There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about getting negative feedback—in fact, it’s perfectly normal. So don’t be afraid to be disappointed. One caution, though: don’t wallow in your misery. Have a cry, eat a bit of chocolate, then move on.

2. Talk to someone supportive, who can remind you what you loved about your story.
  • Sometimes criticism can blind us to our story and make us think that the whole thing is rubbish or that we should scrap all of it. But remember, just because you received negative comments doesn’t mean the entire story is trash-worthy. So instead of throwing it out, talk to someone who likes your story and get your passion for the story back.

3. Distract your mind from your writing by doing something entirely different. 
  • Paint a portrait of your puppy. Plant petunias. Practice piano. Bake scones (and send me some!). Learn to knit or crochet. Do something productive, but make sure it’s not related to your writing.

4. Don’t look at or think about the criticism for at least a few days to a week. 
  • Give yourself time to sleep on the feedback. During that time, don’t go near your writing. Don’t read it, don’t edit it, and definitely don’t throw it away. Just let it hibernate for a week or so.

5. Use the criticism! 
  • Once you’ve waited a few days and occupied your mind with other things, you’re ready to return to your story with fresh eyes. Read the criticism and see where it might be true. Then edit your story using the feedback. Make sure you keep a spare copy of the original version, in case you don’t care for something you’ve edited.
  • Honestly, although it’s difficult to edit something that we’re in love with, this step is the most crucial for the growth and improvement of your story. For myself, I’ve found that when I accept feedback and radically alter something I’ve written, it always comes out much stronger. Sure, it’s tough hearing your work criticized as “vague” or “flowery” (I’ve gotten both), but by the end of the editing process, I hope that you will be able to see that the criticism really helped propel your writing to the next level.

The hardest type of criticism to deal with is outright rejection without any reasons being given. If you don’t have any comments to work with, then follow steps 1-3 and then try to analyze your story by looking for weak parts that might have led to the rejection.

Criticism is tough. Still, I’ve found that it’s one of the most helpful and necessary steps in any writing. I’ve even grown to enjoy it over the years. What about you—is there anything you like about criticism? How do you deal with rejection?

From the Pixar film "Ratatouille"


  1. I have an uncle who is an editor, and when he heard the name of my story he said it didn't sound interesting. I wasn't sure whether or not to change the name because I had finally settled on a name, but now I'm floating on different names and am realizing that it was nearly true because the title was vague, not vivid. Now I'm looking for vivid names, better names for the places too. I'm also criticizing my own spiritual content, looking to see how it may or may not fit in the story and make sure I didn't put it in there just so that there would be spirituality, and find out how the characters grow throughout the book/s.
    It is hard to take criticism at first(unless you know the person and the criticism wasn't too harsh but was characteristic of something they'd say, but it was still a little shocking at the beginning).

    1. True, and thanks for sharing that story. Titles are so tough to change, because even without knowing it you get used to the title and start to love it. The same thing happened to me - I had a very vague title, "A Red Sun Rises," for my story, but after much brainstorming and consultation, I'm changing the title to "Red Sun Blue Earth" which is much less cliche and fits the story better too. So feedback is tough but I'd say it helps a lot :)

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing these tips, Sienna! I think I may use all of them, save for eating a bit of chocolate because I happen to be allergic to it. But I forbid anyone to feel sorry for me on that account. :)
    When I first began writing, it was hard to swallow the criticism of others because I felt like they were attacking me. Now I know that the criticism is not given to hurt me, it's given to better my story. It's a challenge, really. When you can't please someone with something you wrote, the challenge is to better it into something that they will want to read. And, viola! the result is a much better story! :)

    1. Kiri - well, don't eat chocolate if you're allergic, but do find the equivalent sweet sensation. Meringues, for instance :)

      I really do love criticism, too. It's the best kind of challenge - telling you how to get better!

  3. Good tips. :D

    Ironically, I have the opposite problem -- I can't take compliments. XD I don't know what I would do to find someone that hated what I wrote and would give detailed reasons why. ;)

    1. Oh, Mark, I totally agree...what I'd do for a good critic! Still, taking a bashing on your story can hurt. That's what chocolate's for, I suppose :)

      But you can't take any compliments on your writing? Really? Even about the strengths of it?

    2. Not usually. Compliments and I don't enjoy our collective company much. ;)

  4. I'm trying to think of a good critic in my high school English teacher, Mr. Stewart. Great man. He was great because he gave delightful details about what he liked AND what he didn't. He would also listen to you. That's pretty important facet in a critic.

    In fact, I'd have to say that not all critics are created equal. My father in law is a great guy and has many strengths but he is a very critical gentleman. Now this is great in his line of work since he's a superior at Lockheed Martin (you want those in charge of missile creation to be critical in their occupation). But my father in law cannot give praise with his criticism. That's a problem. My mom on the other hand, cannot give criticism. That's a problem, too. Basically, I discount both of their opinions.

    But those who can share what they like and then give an honest criticism...those are the ones to keep close to you. My best one is my husband. I keep him very close. :)

    1. That sounds like an excellent critic! A mix of positive and negative is definitely important.

      Ah, true, and a very good point there. People who see the glass as either half-full or half-empty might not be the best people to critique your book!

      Thanks for your comments :)


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Proverbs 15:1
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