5 Ways to Deal with Criticism of Your Writing, Manuscript or Book

All writers must at some point deal with criticism of their work. Call it constructive criticism, feedback, a critique, a review, or helpful advice, edits, it’s all the same really; the word used may just connote something a bit different or cause us to have a different emotional reaction.

Once you show your work to someone and ask them to tell you what they think (or maybe you don’t ask them what they think but they choose to tell you anyway), you have to deal with that experience in some way.

I’ve been a journalist for a long time–since high school. That means my writing has been read by editors–and edited by editors–for many years (33+).  I’ve had my work published in anthologies, magazines, newsletters, and books. It’s been edited by those editors as well–and critiqued by a variety of readers.

Unless someone tells you something good about your writing, manuscript or book, their words may sound like criticism. So how do deal with that fact? How do you learn to find the actual “constructive” criticism and lose the not-so constructive criticism? And how do you get past your initial emotional reaction so you can actual accept the changes suggested so you can, in fact, improve your writing? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Trust your intuition. First and foremost, your gut will tell you what is right. Not your intellect. Not your ego. Your Intuition. There’s a difference. If you can’t tell the difference, you might need to ask some one to help you discern the difference. Do you know, without doubt, that what you have written is the best it can be and that the criticism you have received is off base? Or do you know that the criticism has some merit? Do you sense that you could do better, that the suggestions, if implemented, would serve your work? Or do you sense that the suggestions would change your work in a way that would harm it?
  2. Detach yourself from your words. When you can approach your work in an unemotional manner, you will be able to hear what is offered objectively. Then you can see the value in the changes suggested. If you remain emotional, you will just feel hurt, not-good enough, dejected–any number of negative emotions related to lack of self-worth as a writer.
  3. Ask trusted colleagues for perspective. If you can’t tell if the criticism or critique has value or is off base, ask those you truly trust and those you know will be honest with you to weigh in.
  4. Take a break. Walk away from your work, and come back in a day or two–or a week–and take another look at the suggested changes. Sometimes a little break is enough to offer you more perspective on your project and on the criticism you received. It can be easier to take in what needs to be done after a bit of distance and a second read through of the suggested edits or revisions.
  5. Remember everyone has their opinion. You don’t have to agree with the opinion of the person who critiqued your work. Even people who have a lot of experience as writers or in the publishing field can sometimes be wrong about a manuscript or book.

I recently had to shrug off someone’s feedback about a project of mine. At first I felt quite upset. I then used all five of these tips to pull myself together and see both the information I could use from the critique and that which I wanted to simply throw away. Let me know how these tips work for you.

Comments

  1. I think you need to consider the kind of criticism it is. I think there are four types:

    Mean and unhelpful–ignore this altogether.
    Nice and unhelpful–ignore, but thank them for niceness.
    Mean and helpful–glean what’s good and ignore the rest.
    Nice and helpful–this is gold. Take it, process it and use it to improve.

    Sometimes people that should be nice to you, aren’t. Wally Amous’ mother told him he’d never succeed in business; she wanted to protect him from failing in selling his cookies. Good thing he ignored that.

    If you’re surrounded by “yes men” who always tell you you’re great, that’s not helpful either. You need ways to really grow.

    Paul

  2. While 95% of people who critique are amazing, every once in a while I run into one that is just going through the motions. Last week this guy gave me a critique that just felt “off” Some of the signs were red flags and others more subtle.

    For example: “I don’t understand why your character is in hurry. Should be slowing down.” That looks like a good question right? Well he claimed to have read the first four chapters. If he had he would have knowen that the main pov was being chased by several enraged guards and bleading from a side wound. I made this very clear.

    It’s the worst feeling to feel your story isn’t just not understood but basicly ignored! Besides being lied to. He also couldn’t see the obvious, like in the third chapter the god hijacking the man pov was hurting her so she screamed and passed out. So the secondary pov broke into her room to help her.

    Well, her reaction to waking up eith a strange man there sure as heck wasn’t going to be “Oh thank you yummy man.”
    No it was she got angery and reached for a dagger.

    And the critic couldn’t understand why she was acting that way. @_@??

    I stayed calm and told him that it wasn’t nice to do that. I also said he needed to actually read the chapters and gave him a link on how to do better critiques. His reply was very hostile.

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