I want to talk about something I used to be very sensitive about: criticism.
By now you know that I wrote The Undead Situation when I was only a teenager. It was my first long work of fiction. I assaulted family and a few friends, begging them to take a look at it and make edits and suggestions. I came to learn that the reason why none of my family really did anything in the way of critique was because they knew I was hyper sensitive about negative criticism. They didn’t want to deal with my reaction.
Yep, I was that kind of person.
You could imagine how I responded to bad reviews when I first self-published. Total rage and denial, followed by depression and on occasion, I admit, some tears. Just looking back on how I handled it all makes me cringe! I want to share some general ideas on how to deal with criticism, because as artists we need to know how and face some harsh realities. Ready? Let’s go.
None of this addresses the issue of trolls. This all concerns regular humans who may say something you disagree with or that counts as criticism.
Take a deep breath
You might have an impulse to immediately defend your work when someone says something slightly negative or even constructive about it. Stop. Just shut your mouth. Take a deep breath. Whether you agree or disagree, it is important to remain calm. Acknowledge the comment in some way if you need to, be pleasant. You don’t want to have a bad reputation as a jerk who can’t handle criticism.
Don’t be an ass
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people dismiss my feedback, irrationally defend themselves, or just be jerks when the slightest of criticisms is presented. Don’t be a fool, be cool. If you’re going to defend yourself, be calm and explanative about it. Admit to shortcomings if you know they exist. You can still appear knowledgeable and respectable while still acknowledging issues in your own work.
It isn’t the end of the world
Big news! Someone saying something not 100% positive about your work isn’t the end of the world. Deep breath. Don’t fixate. Seriously, stop fixating. It means so little in the grand scheme of things. Don’t look at this as a bad experience, look at it as something you can learn from or at the very least an exercise that will toughen you up.
“Negative criticism” often has some merit
I have to put “negative criticism” in quotations because truly unproductive, negative criticism isn’t that common (unless it is produced by a troll, then clearly it is useless). But I bet you think it is. When someone doesn’t like your work, says something was done poorly, or points out flaws, it might be because there are flaws. If they harp on inconsistencies and poor grammar, chances are those issues might exist. If they say characters seem to act erratically, the plot isn’t that deep, or more conceptual problems, there might be truth to it!
The point is, even if the pill isn’t sugar coated it’s good for you. It’s important to acknowledge that any kind of criticism might hold valuable content you need to grow as a writer. Have a tough skin so you don’t freak out, critically consider what has been said to you, and see if it would benefit you to apply it somehow. You don’t need to run around screaming you’re a failure, but trying to develop isn’t bad.
Own up to being a novice writer: it isn’t an excuse, it is a reason
Being a novice writer (regardless of age) means you aren’t that good at writing yet. Maybe you’re young, like I was when I wrote TUS and TUH, maybe you just haven’t been writing that long. Either way, you aren’t amazing yet, and that is okay. Writing, especially a novel, takes so much work. When looking back at your early work, don’t use being a novice as your excuse. Never say, “Oh, I was young. I didn’t know how to write,” like it somehow gets you off the hook for learning from it retrospectively. Sure, it is the reason your work isn’t that good, but you still have to learn from the mistakes you made in it. Don’t forget about your early work; you need to learn from it.
Not every criticism should be applied
Criticism is tricky. At this point you’re thinking, what? Weren’t you just saying to consider all criticism and listen to what everyone has to say? Yes, I am saying that. You do need to parse through it. But you cannot accept every criticism (or every edit, for that matter) because a lot of what people are telling you could be conflicting. This is where your brains come in. Think about what you were told. Does it make sense to you? Can you see that error in your own work? What if you did apply their criticism? What are the consequences if you didn’t?
That’s all! Now, what is your take on handling criticism? Do you think there isn’t really much to it? Disagree with anything I’ve said? You do? Well…well, you’re dumb! How dare you question me!