If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed that I do my best to avoid concrete statements. Things like, “X will definitely happen to you,” or “You need to do Y to be successful.” This is largely because so much of writing is going to be unique to the writer. But today I’m making an exception. Because today, we’re talking about writing criticism.
If you ever intend to share your work, you are going to face criticism. There’s no way around it. Not everyone will like what you write. And that’s okay. They don’t have to. But dealing with that criticism might be challenging and, at times, discouraging.
So with that in mind, here are six tips that have helped me successfully navigate the criticism that comes with writing:
1) Learn the difference between critique and criticism
There are some aspects of critique and criticism that overlap, but to me, they have always been two different things. The difference is in the timing and content. Critiques come when you’re still working on your project. During this time you can take the critique in and use it to improve your story. Whereas criticism often comes after the story is complete, so it’s too late to really do anything about the issues your critic is pointing out. Then there’s the content. Typically, critiques don’t just point out problems, they also often offer solutions and suggestions that are intended to help you make your book the best it can be. On the other hand, criticism tends to point out problems and issues without offering solutions or suggestions.
I think this is an important distinction to make because I consider critiques and feedback to be an essential part of the writing process, while criticism is more of an unavoidable evil of sharing your work. (For more on feedback, check out my feedback series! You can find the first post here.)
2) Consider the source
When you do get criticism, the first thing you have to do is consider the source. If the source is not your target audience, there’s no reason to entertain the criticism in any way. For example, I write young adult spy books. One criticism I receive a lot is from parents who aren’t happy to see that there is cursing in my books. There isn’t a lot of cursing, but it’s there.
This criticism doesn’t really mean anything to me because of the source it’s coming from. I can understand why some parents may not want their teens to read a book with cursing in it, but my priority is my audience. I write about teen characters in life-or-death situations for a teen audience. People curse in life and death situations. And as a former high school substitute teacher (and former high school student), I’ve spent enough time around teenagers to know they curse too. Not cursing would be inauthentic and I’d run the risk of having my teen audience tune me out. I chose authenticity for the sake of my audience and it’s a choice I stand by, regardless of any parental criticism I may receive.
It’s not an author’s job to write a book for every reader. If your criticism is coming from outside your target audience, disregard it.
3) Don’t take criticism personally
Writing is often personal, which means it can be hard to separate a criticism of your writing from a criticism of you. But they really are two separate things. And beyond that, just because someone doesn’t get or like your book, doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means it’s not the right book for them. As much as it might sting to know that your book didn’t resonate with someone, it doesn’t have to be a reflection of you. Just as it’s not an author’s job to write a book for every reader, it’s also impossible to do so. You will not make everyone happy–which means, you don’t need to try to. And one less person who likes what you write means there’s one less person for you to try to please.
Criticism doesn’t have to be a sole reflection of the writer. It can also highlight an incompatibility between the story and the reader. If it helps, think of your book/reader relationship like friendship. You won’t be friends with everyone you meet, and you shouldn’t want to be. Not only would you end up overextended, but some people just aren’t the right type of friend for you–no matter how nice they may be. The book/reader relationship is the same. If someone doesn’t like your story, it just means the two aren’t a good match. Don’t take that personally.
4) Focus on those who get your writing
Odds are, if you like what you write enough to share it, there will be like-minded people who like it just as much as you do. These people will completely get your story, and they will rush to tell you! This kind of feedback is nothing short of magic. Every time you get a piece of criticism that gets under your skin, go pull up the review or feedback that made you soar. These are your people. Let them be your focus.
5) Stay true to your story
At the end of the day, if you know you wrote a story that feels right, then it doesn’t matter what other people say. Even your biggest fans may hate a decision that you make, but if that’s how the story happens, that’s how the story happens. If you wrote your story any differently than how you believe it’s supposed to be, it wouldn’t ring true, and you wouldn’t be able to execute it in a way that will make your readers any happier. Put your faith in the story you created, not in any negative feedback you may get.
6) Prioritize your own happiness
This is the only thing you can truly control. You cannot control if other people like your book, but you can control if you like the book you’ve written. I have found that it’s really easy to ignore criticism if you are genuinely happy with what you’ve created–at least it is in my experience. Sure, there are things people don’t like about my books, but there isn’t a thing I would change about them. Because of that, what other people don’t like doesn’t bother me. I got so much joy out of writing my books that that’s all I see when I look at them. No one can take that away from me. Not even the harshest of criticism. So, any time you get tough feedback, put the criticism aside and go back to the joy you found when you were writing. That’s what all of this is really all about.
I hope this helps you handle writing criticism!
This post was geared on handling criticism from a writing perspective. If you want more on dealing with criticism in general, check out this article from USA Today.
Now it’s your turn: How do you deal with criticism? Is there any tip or trick that’s helped you? Tell me about it in the comments!
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