Guest Post by Writer’s Relief Staff
Let’s face it; most writers become victims of a curmudgeonly critic at one time or another. While many professional writers tell us not to take harsh messages to heart, we all know that it only takes one mean-spirited critique to set us back both emotionally and creatively. A less-than-favorable comment can send us writers diving headfirst into a tub of ice cream or—worse—scare us away from our writing for days, weeks, or even years on end.
The way we see it, you have an important choice to make when you butt heads with a not-so-nice critique partner:
- Option 1: You can measure the critic’s recommendations with an impersonal eye and decide if there’s anything useful in it for you to use.
- Option 2: You can take the critique personally instead of professionally and allow your work to suffer as a result.
If you’ve chosen Option 1, read on! We’ve got some advice on how to turn negative reactions to brutal critique into useful, positive tools.
Appreciate the critic’s work. When you stop and think about the thought and effort the critic has put into his or her comments, you might actually feel a little grateful—even if the critique was ultimately off base. Someone cared about your work enough to critique it, so be the bigger person and give harsh critics the benefit of the doubt.
Excuses are useless. It’s great to let the negativity roll right off your back, but it is unwise to write off helpful tips just because you’re insulted. You might think: What does she know? She doesn’t write in this genre; who is she to judge? The truth of the matter is that once you’ve shared your writing with a reader, their experience of your writing is subjective (as opposed to “wrong”). If you want to make sure that you and your future readers are on the same page, it can be helpful to hear all points of view with an open mind.
Remember that the critic is human too. If three out of four of your critique partners are giving you positive feedback, you might want to consider what’s going on in that fourth critic’s life. The critic might be bringing some negative experiences and feelings from their personal life to the table when they’re reviewing your work. Keep this in mind and try to be understanding; everyone has a rough day now and then. Focus on remembering that the critique, while maybe a bit hurtful, was still meant to help you.
Pay attention to the positive. So the negative feedback is a bit too much for you. That’s all right. Take a close look at the positive feedback you’ve received. What did your critics say you did well? How can you build on these strong points and make them even stronger? There’s brilliance in playing to your strengths.
Phone a friend. Writing (and rewriting) is a process. One negative critique does not necessarily have to trigger a drastic overhaul of your work. It might be helpful to have a chat with someone who has read and been supportive of your previous work—someone who has provided you with kind and constructive feedback.
Take a step back. If you’re especially shaken by a particular critic’s comments, consider putting the work to the side—at least for a little while. Having some time to think can help you gain a clearer head and more accurate perspective. Who knows? You might even come to agree with your critique partner in the end!
While it might be hard to separate yourself from your work, remember: You are NOT your writing. And when you get negative feedback, the best thing you can do is find a way to spin it around and use it in a positive way.
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Tags: Courage in Writing, Critiques
I took option 2 the first time around, lol. It’s taken me years to gain the confidence to put myself back out there. At the time, I ignored the positive feedback and only focused on the negative. I’m working hard to change that now.
Really useful tips! Yes, it’s right to say that seeing the positive helps. And it’s right as well that every critique is a learning opportunity. So let’s keep learning!
I have been enjoying your posts on writing for several months now, and wanted to respond to this because I feel that *critical* critiques are really undervalued. You did not mention that the negative critique might actually be valid. What are the critic’s background and credentials? Might the negative review or critique be coming from someone who is simply holding your work to a higher standard than others? There is a real reluctance in certain circles–writerly circles, book blogging circles, many online communities–to elaborate on negative opinions, but if we don’t listen to those with different (but potentially transformative) perspectives, we lose a growth opportunity. I would guess that dismissing an odd review as influenced by someone’s personal life is as non-productive as dismissing it because “what do they know anyway.” There are ignorantly critical reviews, but there are negative reviews that nevertheless present very valid points.
I agree that negative reviews can provide valid points. But we also have to decide if it is helpful. If the critique stops you in your tracks and keeps you from moving forward, then no matter how valid, it isn’t helpful. There’s a complex space to navigate when it comes to feedback. I am a huge advocate of being honest and not “sugar coating” things (as the friends in my writer’s group can attest). But there’s trust that’s built in that relationship as well. Each author has to consider who’s giving the feedback, and how much they value that opinion. Each author also has to be responsible for their own reactions to a critique, and ask themselves if they’re truly listening.
I’ve always loved this quote from Neil Gaiman: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
I also take a step back when a get a negative critique (though doing so is very difficult). “You are not your writing”–very good advice.
This is a great reminder. I am recently published, and so far haven’t seen any negative reviews. But I’ve skimmed through reviews of some of my favorite books on Goodreads and have at times been shocked and appalled at the gall of some of those reviewers. Ha. I try to remember that everyone is different. One person’s most hated book is another’s most favorite!