Handling Criticism as a Writer | Between the Lines Editorial

Sadly, life isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies. I wish it were. But because it isn’t, that means as writers, we open ourselves up to criticism, both constructive and otherwise.

If you’ve ever taken a working workshop, swapped manuscripts with a critique partner, or paid for professional editing, you know that edits–and even criticism–can get bloody.

Of course, I don’t think constructive criticism should ever be malicious, and I don’t think it’s right to criticize something just to criticize. Feedback should be helpful, thoughtful, and polite.

Unfortunately, even when feedback is helpful and thoughtful and polite and it’s your best friend providing feedback, criticism is tough to swallow. Nobody likes to hear things like, “what if you changed XYZ,” or “you should do ABC instead!”

Over my career as both a writer and editor, I’ve learned a few tricks to handle criticism, and they’ve helped me grow not just professionally, but personally. I hope these lessons can help you, too.

Lesson One: Don’t be blinded by love & get lazy.

Have you ever written a paragraph so moving and well-worded that you wonder how you haven’t been published yet? Or that your plot is so bulletproof and your characters so compelling that they don’t need any tweaking?

We’ve all been there, if only for a few seconds.

Don’t fall into this trap.

That’s not to say that a particular paragraph isn’t great, or that your overall plot isn’t compelling. However, don’t think that because YOU are in love with your writing, you can skip the beta readers, the critique partners, the editors, and the proofreaders.

No manuscript is perfect. Even books from major publishing houses get printed and sold with mistakes because books are written, edited, and produced by humans. Humans are notorious for making mistakes.

Even Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had critiques, betas, editors, and proofreaders before their current printed state and monetary success.

It’s important to be proud of your work, but it’s also important remember that the revision process will only make your work better. Don’t get lazy or overconfident, and definitely have some combination of beta readers, critique partners, editors, and/or proofreaders review your work before sending it out into the world.

Lesson Two: Don’t ignore criticism.

This lesson has more grey area than the first. Allow me to explain.

If someone comes to your blog and starts leaving malicious comments on multiple blog posts, you can ignore that. That’s someone trolling and being mean, and definitely not fair criticism. Get rid of toxic people like that and ignore them.

However, if the criticism you receive is from a beta reader, a critique partner, or some other trusted source, you should listen to it.

Listening to critique doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything that’s said. For example, if a critique partner tells you to user super flowery and dense language a la Tolkien, but you’ve always written more like Hemingway, you don’t have to completely overhaul your writing style for one person. Instead, consider what they’ve said and the advice they’ve offered, and play with ways to incorporate the suggestions you do like into your style.

Listening to constructive criticism, processing it, and finding ways to incorporate suggestions you like will help you evolve as a writer. After all, we’re all trying to get better at this, right?

Lesson Three: Don’t lash out–ever.

Someone just left a public review on your book, and you think the review is completely unfair, unwarranted, and flat out wrong. How could someone rate your book one star? How dare they tarnish your overall rating on Goodreads or Amazon? Do they even know how hard you worked?

Hold on, friend. Step back and breathe.

You have to remember two things:

  1. By putting your work out there for purchase, you’re opening yourself up to the entire world’s opinions, and people have a right to leave an honest review.
  2. A few bad ratings do not kill literary careers. Consumers who read reviews on products take a lot of factors into consideration. Even the most popular books have some one and two star reviews!

And now, it’s time for a story.

One of my friends, an avid reader and book blogger, was approached by an indie author about reviewing the author’s book. My friend did what anyone in that position would do: she accepted the offer, told the author the review would be 100% honest, and then left an honest review on Goodreads and Amazon about the book. In her review, she even stated she was approached by the author, and that she doesn’t usually rate books so low. My friend was polite, and explained why she didn’t like the book.

My friend sent me passages from the book. and this book was truly unedited and unreadable, but the author had 15 five star reviews. Definitely odd considering the state of the manuscript!

When the author saw the review, she replied and berated my friend for being so mean, accused her of trying to sabotage her writing career, and even lied and said that she, the author, had never asked my friend to review the book.

In short: the author lashed out.

Not only is lashing out unprofessional, but it’s unproductive. All it will do is make you feel worse and scare off potential future readers when they see you lash out at anyone who doesn’t like your book.

Besides, not everyone will like your book. I’ve tried to read some very popular books multiple times and just can’t get past the first few chapters. That doesn’t mean I think the author sucks at writing, or that I hate the author for some reason. Never take a bad review personally.

TL;DR: Don’t be scared of criticism.

Overall, you shouldn’t be scared to receive criticism, nor should you be upset when someone offers constructive feedback.

Feedback and criticism help you grow as a writer. It’s tough, but if you keep the above lessons in mind, you’ll be just fine!