A while back I attended a novel-writing workshop. Each week we read thirty pages from two students and spoke about them in depth during class, offering helpful feedback and criticism of their writing.
After the second or third week, it became customary to ask whoever had been up for a critique “are you OK?” after class. Sometimes I saw tears. I myself felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I still had to do and my classmates’ brutal honesty.
5 Strategies to Survive Criticism of Your Writing
We all know workshops and editing are crucial to the writing process. Writing criticism is essential. But man, that feedback can be hard to hear.
Here five survival tips.
1. Turn to Someone You Don’t Know
Hire an editor, sign up for a class, or search the Internet for an editing partner (we’re partial to Becoming Writer, our online community of writers!). At the end of the day, your work is going to be read by strangers, so you might as well hear what they think when you can still make changes.
Also, it’s easier not to take criticism personally when it comes from someone who doesn’t know you!
I suggest finding someone who you can trust knows what they’re doing, like a writing teacher or an editor.
2. Turn to Someone You Do Know, Also
As a general matter, I recommend seeking feedback from a diverse set of readers. Yes, it’s good to hear from strangers, but you can also benefit from the perspective of someone who knows your story, if you’re willing to share it with them.
Friends and family may know why you wrote this story, and what you’re trying to do with it. More importantly, they know you. You may be surprised by what they have to say.
3. You Don’t Need to Accept Every Change
You definitely do not need to accept every change.
My approach is this: I send my work to multiple people and review their comments with an open mind. If everyone makes the same comment, misunderstands the same character, or finds the same section lacking, then I know I need to make a change, no matter how much I may not want to.
(And, by the way, if everyone compliments me on the same technique or loves a certain character, I accept that feedback as well!)
If one person randomly hates XYZ (which inevitably happens), but no one else did, I usually let that comment go.
4. Remember, Giving Feedback Takes Time and Effort
When you see that a person has torn your document apart, instead of getting pissed, try feeling grateful. It takes a lot of time and effort to provide thoughtful feedback to another person.
In other words, they’re giving you a lot of comments because they care.
Take a breath, review, and then follow up with any questions, if you can.
5. Find Your Favorite Author and Read Their One-Star Reviews
This was a game changer for me. Reviewing the one-star reviews of books I love really put things in perspective.
Not every book is for everyone, and that’s OK. Some people will love what you wrote. Others won’t. The goal is to publish the best piece you can.
Bonus: Embrace the Process
I get that it’s hard to give what essentially is your soul on the page to someone to critique. Receiving writing criticism can be a painful process.
But the truth is, that feedback will improve your work and ultimately make you a better writer. Embrace it!
Do you have any tips for surviving criticism of your writing? Let us know in the comments.
If you don’t have a work in progress, take ten minutes to write a new story based on this prompt: a character is on a journey, but just realized they didn’t bring enough supplies. When you’re done, share your story in the comments and take ten minutes to leave feedback for your fellow writers.
Remember, great feedback does three things:
- It points out something good about the writing.
- It identifies a weakness.
- It mentions another thing that works.
You might be surprised at just how helpful your fellow writers’ comments will be!