How to Handle Criticism of your Writing


Up until a few years ago, I always struggled with the criticism I’d receive about my writing. Whether it was my editor pointing out grammatical or content errors or it was a bad book review panning the writing, or something else, I wouldn’t always handle it gracefully. I think most, if not all writers, go through similar struggles. Our writing is our creative expression, are intellectual children and we feel protective of it, see it as something special…and it is, but nonetheless it’s also something which can always be improved on. Additionally how we handle criticism is important, because the professional connections we have will remember if the author has acted like a prima donna or has handled the criticism in a professional manner.

Recently a professional acquaintance shared a story with me about an author who’d gotten some bad reviews of her books and had blamed everyone else but herself for the quality of writing. This person was unwilling to examine her own writing or the criticism she received in an objective manner. Instead she took the criticism personally. As a result she wasn’t actively working on improving her writing and when another opportunity came for her to feature her writing elsewhere, other people remembered her behavior and didn’t want to offer her that chance because it was clear that her writing and her attitude still hadn’t improved.

Now ideally we all want constructive criticism, which points out what could be improved and offers some suggestions to that effective. However, as writers we necessarily need to accept we won’t always get constructive criticism. And when we don’t get constructive criticism, we need to have a thick skin and more importantly be able to look at the criticism and determine if anything of value can be gotten from it that can help us improve our writing. It’s not easy to do, but what I’ve found is helpful is reminding myself that what’s most important to me is improving the quality of my writing…so when I receive negative criticism, I look at it with that lens and determine if there is any valuable insights. If so, I’ll take them and use them and if not, I’ll move on, because there’s little point in dwelling on the issues that other people have with your writing.

As a writer you need to accept that not everyone will like your writing, nor does everyone need to. As long as you can accept that, you will be able to handle whatever criticism comes your way. Remember as well that most criticism isn’t personal and when it is, it has less to do with you and much more to do with whatever reaction your writing brought up for the person reading it.


One thought on “How to Handle Criticism of your Writing

  1. Yes, I’m actually quite fond of critique groups and never had much of a problem getting criticism. Most feedback has been positive, which probably helps. But recently I published a book and it was reviewed by a man who I have been intimidated by since I was a child. He praised it highly but also criticized it in private for one little issue. He wished I had differentiated the character voices more, but he still felt that the book was well above the standards of the genre. His profession is connected to books, so I was giddy with relief. This person who used to intimidate me had praised my book and his only criticism was something I love to work on and I even knew it was a bit of an issue (the book is multiple first person narration, so of course it was an issue). There were so many other things I was afraid he was going to criticize. My response was something like, “Thanks for the advice. I completely understand what you’re saying. It’s a struggle for me. I’m working on it.” And he was deeply offended and told me that I had “dismissed” his remark. That was really sad for me because I was relieved, not dismissive, at least inside. What I wonder is how to effectively express appreciation for criticism, particularly when you already know the issue exists and it is complex.

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