The Best Way To Handle Criticism As A Writer

The Best Way To Handle Criticism As A Writer

By Neal Martin/ September 1, 2015
Last Updated April 27, 2023
handling criticism

Sometimes I dread reading a review of my work for fear of what it might contain. No one likes to have their work torn to shreds by a reviewer who had a problem with, or blatantly hated, what you had to offer.

Probably the most painful reviews to read are those that are the most critical, generally the three star reviews.

One star reviews are given because the reader disliked the whole book, or some aspect of the book that killed it for them. More often than not, the book in question is just not suited to the reader, and so they naturally dislike everything about it.

dealing with criticism as writer

Three star reviews mean a reader liked some of your book, but hated other aspects of it, enough that they didn’t enjoy reading it.

Quite often, such critical reviews are useful. The weaknesses of the book are laid bare for the writer to see, if the writer didn’t know about them already.

Most three star reviews come across as harsh in tone to me, probably because the reader never got the experience they were looking for in the book. For a writer, that can be useful to know why, but it can also be hard to take. It is up to you to decide if the criticism was justified or not.

dealing with criticism as writer

Whatever the case, there is nothing you can do about criticism and reviews. You put yourself in the firing line when you chose to publish a book, so you can’t really complain when you get shot at. You can moan like fuck, as long as you don’t do it in public.

As hard as it is, you have to suck up the criticism and carry on. If you are dedicated enough, that won’t be a problem.

Try these tips to better handle criticism:

1. Let Go Of The Need For Validation

You don’t need other people to tell you that you are a writer. If you are completely dedicated to the craft you will not need anything else to keep you writing. Not even praise. Sure, it is good to get feedback on your work, but you don’t need it to keep writing.

When you cut through all the bullshit of why you write, there is only one thing left that is worth mentioning:

Your purpose in life is to be a writer, someone who writes, so you should keep doing that. Keep staying true to your purpose. Do what you have to do. That’s it.

Whether someone says you are good or bad shouldn’t matter. What the fuck do they know anyway? Only you know if you were meant to write or not. That’s all the validation you need.

2. Be A Cold Motherfucker When You Evaluate Criticism.

The colder you can be, the better. The less of an emotional response you can have, the better.

The worst way to approach criticism is from an overly emotional standpoint. You will take it all personally and let it enter your heart like poison, where it will fester in you, eating away at your soul for days or weeks. Take it from someone who knows.

Give your emotions the boot when you read reviews of your work. Approach reading reviews from a Zen like standpoint. Don’t get over or under excited about any of them. Practice this approach, for it will take practice. Make a point of becoming detached before you read any review. You are much less likely to take any of them to heart if you do.

3. Learn From The Criticism If It Is Valid

Most of the critical reviews you will get on your work will tend to be justified. A reviewer will often point out weaknesses in the book, like plot holes, lack of character development or badly written, clunky prose. These things spoil the enjoyment for the reader and they are usually quick to point this out in their reviews.

If editing is an issue, reviewers will nearly always point this out. Some of them anyway, especially the dreaded grammar Nazis. But it only takes one or two bad reviews because of grammar errors or spelling mistakes to turn other people away from your work.

You would do well to take serious heed of these kinds of reviews. Be objective and honest with yourself.

You will always know if a reviewer is telling the truth or not, because it will sting when you read their criticisms. It will sting because you already knew about the weaknesses being pointed out. Naively, you maybe thought no one would notice, but something I have learned is that people always notice.

I’ve gotten bad reviews for bad editing. It stung like hell at the time, but those reviews forced me to go back and fix those errors, improving the product in the process, which in turn, increased the chances of the book selling.

So you see, not all criticism is bad. In fact, much of it can be deserved. Ignore it at your peril though. Just don’t take it personally.

Remember that you are a professional, and professionals don’t take things personally.

4. Don’t Give Too Much Of A Fuck

I read an interview recently with Karl Sanders, the guitarist and creative brains behind Nile, a band that I will talk about in a different article soon (as one of my non-literary influences).

For now, here’s a quote from the article, in which the interviewer asks Karl about criticism, and “how it must be very hard not to get caught up in it, and to get that balance right of what people want and expect, but to stay true to yourself and keep doing your thing too, and to stop what fans (or otherwise) are saying about your craft from seeping in…”

Here’s Karl’s answer:

“I’d say it seeps in a lot. Some of the more drastic fluctuations in my mindset and mental health over the last 2 decades are directly because of that. It’s so easy to see the feedback and there’s a natural artistic thing where you do care what your fans have to say, you do care how they feel about what you do, it’s so natural and human.

But it’s a multiple edged sword because there’s a madness at the end of that path, and I’ve been down it a few times and I can say it is dangerous to your well-being to give too much of a fuck about what other people are saying.”

Wise words, and I’m sure every writer can relate.

So reviews? Take heed of them, but remember not to give too much of a fuck about them.

2 responses to “The Best Way To Handle Criticism As A Writer”

  1. Lucy Black Avatar
    Lucy Black

    I found this post really helpful, thank you. I hate reading reviews of my work, but with the things you pointed out, I feel better about doing so now. Hard to be Zen when someone you don’t know is ripping into your work, but I will try!

    1. Neal Martin Avatar
      Neal Martin

      Thanks Lucy! Yes, we all hate bad reviews and harsh criticism, but it’s in our interests as writers to become as inured to it all as possible. It will never go away, so better to get used to it. Thanks for commenting!

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