How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer

We can get criticized about anything–our hair, our shoes, our taste in restaurants–and we’ll laugh it off. But if someone criticizes our writing, then things get serious.

deal criticism

When we write, we write our feelings and our thoughts. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. If my thoughts are proof of my existence, then naturally, my thoughts define who I am. And nothing can be more personal than the inexplicable feelings that reside in the depths of my inner world. Somewhere between our thoughts and our feelings, we are putting ourselves on paper, bare for anyone to criticize. When reviewers criticize our writing, they criticize us, the deepest parts of who we are. But is that really the case?

Can it be that they’re criticizing our expression of our thoughts? Or they’re expressing their own dissatisfaction with themselves or life in general? Regardless of their reasoning, the reader behind the harsh review or the editor with too many suggestions, have plummeted us from our high as we frantically typed our words into the dark abyss of failure. So how do we deal with it?

In today’s post, we’ll give you our tips on how to deal with criticism.

1. Make Peace with Yourself.

The first thing to keep in mind is that we won’t be able to handle criticism if we’re drowning in self-doubt. When the criticism re-affirms a fear or self-doubt it amplifies our fears or turns our doubts into cold hard facts in our minds.

Often times, our biggest critics are ourselves. We hold ourselves up to a high standard. If it weren’t for our high expectations of ourselves, we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have. For perfectionists criticism is painful because it slaps us in the face, reminding us of all the reasons our work isn’t perfect yet.

Embrace your flaws and realize that they may be the source of your genius—if not, then at least the source of your humanity.

But, you can’t get everything right. You are not perfect, and you’ll never be. Although it may seem that perfectionism is a noble goal, it’s in fact, the flaws, the human side of us that creates true beauty and art. No writing of fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry, would survive without an evil or dark side. Who would want to read about a perfect family without a worry or problem? Not only is it a dull book, but it is also of no value to the reader—neither relatable nor intriguing. Embrace your flaws and realize that they may be the source of your genius—if not, then at least the source of your humanity.

Criticism hurts when it hits a sensitive nerve.  If you haven’t dealt with scarring events and emotions, then do so. You can use your writing as a healing grounds, and you’ll find that it results in some of your most poignant writing.

2. Banish Unpleasant Thoughts.

Learn to banish unpleasant thoughts from your mind. When we’re alone and no one is listening, what are we telling ourselves? “My work is worthless,” “There’s no chance I’ll make it,” “What made me think I could write in the first place?” These thoughts not only exacerbate the negativity in our minds, but they also prevent us from having productive thoughts that can push us forward. Thoughts like these have no room in your life. If you allow them free reign your mind, you’re only giving room to have other people’s criticisms have a bigger impact on you than they should.

Words often hold a lot of power and influence over us, so having an impenetrable defense system is as important as keeping your immune system strong to ward off germs.

Focus on the positive side. Someone just told you that something needs to be improved, for example, “Your dialogues are contrived.” Be internally grateful: “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t know what to work on.” “While others trudge on doing the same mistakes, I was blessed to have someone cross my path and shed light on it.” “Editing these dialogues pushes my writing one step closer to publication.”

Words often hold a lot of power and influence over us, so having an impenetrable defense system is as important as keeping your immune system strong to ward off germs. 

3. Truly Listen.

To identify what the critic wants to express the most, you need to truly listen. Not just to the words, but also to the entire message. You need to put yourself in your critic’s shoes and assess the reasons and motivations for expressing the feedback. Otherwise, you may end up feeling personally attacked.

Without listening, you’ll never know what to improve and what to eliminate, so you’ll hardly ever grow. For example, if you asked for resume help you would listen to everything they have to say about your CV, because you really want that job. Although it’s your career laid out on paper, you wouldn’t take it personally, you’d listen. Likewise, with your writing, you really want to improve it, so listen, really listen.

4. Analyze.

If there’s one thing to learn from receiving a lot of criticisms is to see if there’s a common factor the majority agree on, this is something you may be lacking in. By being able to identify your fault points, you’ll be able to focus more on learning from your mistakes and improving.

Is this criticism helpful or destructive?

When analyzing criticism, you should start with this question. Both types of criticism can be beneficial, though the destructive one is quite tricky. It can make the strongest of us lose faith or confidence in ourselves, and that’s something we never want to happen.

Constructive criticism is a technique a critic uses to encourage a person to improve and move forward. It is an objective analysis of the weaknesses and strengths of one’s work, and ends with tips and advice. As a result, the writer may be more confident, more inclined to try again, and strive to never give up.

Destructive criticism is an attack on the writer instead of an analysis of the writer’s skill set.  It creates conflict, transfers negative energy, lays blame, and puts the writer down. If you’ve determined that, that it’s destructive criticism, put on a thick shell and sort through their message. Try to extract from the hateful tirade, something concrete that you can work with and toss the rest.

constructive vs destructive criticism

5. Never Take Criticism Personally.

Other people’s thoughts and feelings are purely their own, you can’t judge yourself over every last perceived slight from someone. Your experience might be different than theirs, so you should never dismiss your own feelings based on what others think.

With constructive criticism, the reviewers are analyzing what you wrote, not who you are. As we develop as writers our ability to put our intangible feelings and sensory images into words improves. In the meantime, our writing will continuously have room for improvement.

With destructive criticism, the reviewers are attacking you, because your writing represents troubles they haven’t been able to deal with. Rude comments targetting you personally may not be about you at all. What others think and feel is purely the culmination of their thoughts and life experiences.

If you do take it personally, you’re doomed to experience negative feelings, delay your work, or impede your progress. If you don’t take it personally, you will feel excited about your chance to improve yourself or your work.

6. Learn When Not to Listen.

We know we just said you should truly listen, but there are two times when you shouldn’t listen.

If the criticism is severely hateful, revengeful, and out of its place, you have the simple option of dismissing it. Nobody can blame you for protecting your principles, values, and time. Don’t reply to that unnecessary remark.

If you’re not emotionally prepared to handle the criticism. You may be stressed, at an emotional time in your life, or simply in a hurry. Postpone reading the review, until you’re ready to get the most out of it.

7. Always Respond Calmly.

What we mentioned at the beginning of the article bears repeating, criticism serves as road signs on your path to improvement. If you lash out at the ones giving you advice, you won’t get more advice. You’ll find yourself stranded with no one to help you.  

If you’re aiming to brand yourself, you need to respond to criticisms in the most diplomatic way possible. While what they say may seem like personal attacks to you, ones you’ll have to either ignore entirely or fight back, you may have to take a step back, take a deep breath and calm down before you make your move. You won’t be doing yourself any favors if you become known as someone who’s always defensive and ready to attack. It won’t give your viewers or readers a good impression about you.

If you lash out at the ones giving you advice, you won’t get more advice. You’ll find yourself stranded with no one to help you.

The diplomatic approach when it comes to replying to the feedback you receive means you’re giving other people the chance to see that you’re a true professional who can handle anything that comes their way without letting it get to them and affecting them emotionally.

“A good reputation, both personal and professional, requires confidence and a high sense of responsibility. If it’s your work that’s commented upon, make sure you’re present and ready to debate, apologize, or contradict.” – Mike Wels, psychologist and CEO at College-Paper.org.

8. Apologize When Your Writing Offends.

As we’ve mentioned before, no one is perfect, which can become apparent in your writing as well. You may not mean it, but your writing can rub someone the wrong way, or be accidentally offensive to them. Learn when to apologize and admit you were wrong.

“Apologizing for any sort of mistake or inconvenience that your actions and decisions might have caused is a clear sign that you’re already above most people.” – Hannah Yuri, HR manager at CareersBooster.

By showing humility and honesty, you’ll only attract opportunities and quality people around you. If you have fans, you’ll win their trust. If you apologize to yourself (and forgive yourself), you can regain your freedom.

9. Remember Everything in Life Is Temporary.

Nothing is constant or remains the same forever. Everything changes, without change there’s no growth, now is there? Never forget that everything you go through will pass eventually, your anger will blow over, and your frustration and hurt won’t stay there forever. And change isn’t always a negative thing, such as with your writing, it won’t stay the same. After all, the more you write and work, the better you’ll get, that’s a fact of life.

Pull out something you wrote five years ago, or while you were in middle school. If you’ve been working on improving your writing, then the work from five years ago will remind you of lessons learned, and if you haven’t, well the writing from middle school will be a stark reminder of how far you’ve come.  What you’re going through right now is nothing but growing pains. This too shall pass.

After all, the more you write and work at it, the better you’ll get, and that’s a fact of life.

Even your biggest critic today can be your fan tomorrow. You learn from your mistakes every day, and every criticism you receive can be counted as a growth point. Taking a positive approach while remembering that time will heal all, will help us to solve a lot of our problems.

10. Start Making Changes.

If you learn to curb your anger and look at the big picture, you’ll be able to get past the moment.

The best way to take your mind off something is to shift your attention to the present–away from the negativity that comes from the criticism you receive, instead focus on the positive points you can learn from. You should only think about what you’re doing right now, and your future goals. Then start searching for solutions, read writing tips, sign up for a workshop or go to a retreat or conference.

dealing criticism

Conclusion

Every person who steps out of the comfort zone will be able to grow stronger and more confident. Keep our pointers in mind when you next have to deal with any sort of criticism in your personal or professional life, and see how much better you’ll be for it.

 

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