As a writer, you will encounter criticism many times in your career – the criticism can be moderate, harsh or severe: it is inevitable. Nobody can make everybody happy all the time, and if you did, you probably wouldn’t be worth reading. I am not saying just write for the controversy, but always write from your heart. However, not everyone will like what you wrote. At best, someone will tell you that you messed up, at worst they will just stop reading your work. How you handle it, will say more about your character than writing a thousand essays. So what do you do when faced with criticism?
Several years ago, I wrote a book. I was in love with the manuscript, and I wanted everyone else to be as well. I would wake up early in the morning, listen to my writing music and put words on paper. It took me several months to finish it, and then by the time it was done, I self published the piece.
I received my book in the mail, it was pretty. I wanted people to read it and buy it – I was elated, but my elation was short lived. My book was far from the ideals of the “Great American Novel,” and it was met with harsh and seemingly unfair criticism.
I was told, “…getting through the first five chapters was like wading in waist deep s***.” “You really should give this book away to sleep centers, because I think you have found the cure for insomnia.” “Your character development is sad, in fact I wanted to burn this book in memoriam to the death of your character development.” My favorite one, “Do you think everyone is as insane as you?”
I tried to write another book, but the voices of the critics were resounding in my head. I put down my pen, as it were, and never wrote another book.
My definition of the different types of criticism.
Hearing that someone doesn’t like your work is difficult. Afterall what is written takes on a life of its own and because it was berthed by you, it becomes your baby. This is where writers can lose their objectivity – I definately did. I became overly enthralled with the sound of my own voice, I had lost my grip on reality. You see, writers know what they want the story, article, blog post to say, but unfortunately sometimes it gets lost in translation.
Moderate criticism – this type of criticism is the easiest to overcome. For example, someone states that you didn’t proofread verywell. You realize that your audience will proofread for you, but that isn’t their job. So you proofread better – it is a learning experience. Moderate criticism doesn’t kill you, and you march on. This is the same as your teacher in school, giving you a “B” on a paper and saying to work a little harder.
Harsh criticism – now we are getting into some deeper water. Your audience tells you that you don’t know what you are talking about and now you are “on the ropes” as it were. You re-read what you wrote and then you defend what you wrote. You cite the articles you read and the information you gathered to defend your position. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but still you defend your “child.”
Severe criticism – wrath has just been dolled out. The person feels wronged and is vehement in their discourse. You get verbally beaten about the head and neck. The person is explosive and cutting, they get in your face – they might call you all sorts of names and tell you that you are not only wrong but you are dead wrong. At this point the “child” has faced irrevocable damage and is dead.
So how do you deal with criticism?
Like I said, criticism is bound to happen and how we deal with it shows who we are and what we are. I have to admit, facing criticism is difficult for me – because I do not like people pointing out my faults.
With my novel, I dealt with the harsh criticism. My critics were tough on me, and even though I was trying to defend my writing, I soon gave up, because what they said made me feel that I was no good at writing. My wife has suggested that I take a writing course. I thought that was a great idea, but as of yet I have not taken such a course.
I took the cowards way out with my novel, and I put my writing away. However, I love writing, so that is why I blog, albeit an easier form of writing, it still satisfies my longing to put words on a page.
I have faced criticism with my blogging – I can say that some of the criticism has been very severe. Some of the criticism has left me breathless and stopped me in my tracks. and in some cases I have had to retract what I have said or deleted the writing all together. It is hard to say, “I’m sorry.” but in cases of severe criticism – most of the time that is the correct course of action.
Do’s and don’ts
You have to decide how you are going to react to criticism. I have sometimes acted inappropriately to what my critics have said, and in other times I have responded adequately.
There are six things that you need to do when faced by a critic. Listen, apply, take action, make amends, appreciation and continue.
- Really pay attention to what they have to say – because they took the time to read what you wrote – the listening phase.
- Make note of their critique and how you can apply it in your subsequent writing – The appling phase.
- Correct what you have written, if it needs to be corrected – The take action phase.
- When you are wrong – admit it and apologize – The make amends phase (I feel the hardest phase of them all, but it will get easier).
- Thank them for their critique, make them feel that they are also part of the process – The appreciation phase.
- Get back to your writing – The continue phase.
- Ignore your audience – making your audience feel they are beneath you will only alienate them.
- Insult them or put them down, because you feel attacked.
- Make excuses for what you wrote – really the excuses you make don’t really matter (To be clear, defending what you wrote is not making excuses).
- Give up on your writing.
I cannot say this enough, being criticized for your writing is the inevitability of this profession. It is alright to feel some hurt by being critiqued, however, learn to rise above what you feel, correct what you need to correct, apologize if you need but most importantly – don’t let someone else’s feelings about your writing and the words you put on paper – cause you to stop writing.