We’ve all had a bad critique experience. And, sometimes, a particularly difficult or mean-spirited critique can be debilitating and even demoralizing! Here’s how one Writer’s Relief staffer describes her experience with handling a bad critique:
I had gone to my first real critique outside of my high school. My teachers had always been very supportive and complimentary, so it was a shock to my system when the relatively well-published poets in that critique group came down pretty hard on my poetry. I didn’t write poetry again until I was well into my twenties. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t let it get me down.
As writers, we’ve got to have tough skin. Being told we’ve got to change/revise our work is par for the course. You have a choice: You can view critique as helpful (even when you disagree), or you can allow yourself to become emotionally defeated. Career writers work hard to learn how to rise above the despair. They dust themselves off after a tough critique and go back to writing again.
Of course, some critiques are more scathing than others. Even well-intentioned and supportive critique can hurt. At some point, you’ll probably encounter a critique partner who is downright mean.
Prepare in advance so that when you do get tough feedback from a writer’s group, you’re ready for it. You can start by using our tips!
1. Don’t make excuses. It can be easy to write off advice that we don’t like: He obviously doesn’t get my writing. She clearly has no idea what good writing is. But the truth is that once you give your writing to someone else, it belongs to that reader. And you can learn a lot about your writing by being open to other people’s experiences—especially those people who have very different perspectives than your own!
2. Focus on the positive aspects of the critique. If you really can’t bear the negative stuff that was said about your work, focus on the positive. Think: So they liked my metaphors. How can I make my strengths even stronger? If you try to develop what you’re already doing well, you may see more favorable reactions in the future.
3. Consider the context. If you’re getting good feedback from most of your critique partners, but really bad feedback from one person in particular, you might consider the circumstances. Perhaps that one person is insecure and takes his/her anger out by putting other people down. If that’s the case, try to be understanding that we all fall on hard times, and then focus on the critique that is meant to help, not hurt.
4. Be grateful. When you’re in a state of real gratitude, it’s hard to feel bad. So even if you disagree with the nasty critique you were just given, perhaps you might look at this as an opportunity to become a stronger person, one who is not susceptible to unhelpful negativity. Take the opportunity to grow!
Some other tips from Writer’s Relief staffers:
Bury yourself in a box of chocolates or a gallon of ice cream.
As with a medical prognosis, I’d get a second opinion.
I would have to talk about it to someone who has been supportive of my writing in the past—someone who has been critical though constructive. I think it’s necessary to say some things out loud to put them in perspective—then take a deep breath, laugh a little, and forge ahead!
I would probably shed a few tears of insult (after all, we are human), and then reread any items I’ve already had published. Obviously someone appreciated my work.
Put the work away for a while, then come back to it knowing that you (and no one else) are the best judge of your own work.
Be honest with yourself, but not down on yourself.
I would wonder what negative karma a particularly mean critique partner might be experiencing in his/her life and I’d chant for that person’s happiness.
I’d try to strip my feelings from the critique and look at it objectively.
What’s your advice to other writers for dealing with critique? We invite you to share your ideas below!
At Writer’s Relief, we don’t offer critique and content feedback to our clients. But we do help with the submission process. Learn more today!
Drinking might help cope too, and it might even inspire something even better. (I’m kidding!)
I was a technical writer and taught technical writing for many years. Exchanging work for critique was part of most classes. I always prefaced such an exchange by telling my students that the work was theirs and that they could use the critique as they pleased. It was up to them to use it or disregard it. I did point out, however, that technical writers and copy writers needed to develop tough skins or they would probably be crushed on an ongoing basis.
As a journalist, I am edited, and so I’m used to constructive criticism and most times it improves my writing and has made me a better writer. But I was in a creative writing class taught by a novelist who was meaner than a farmyard rooster. Seriously, her criticisms were always harsh and her comments demoralizing. Yes, I learned from her, but I often wonder how many people in that class had their dreams destroyed forever and quit writing. In hindsight, I think she may have had some psychological issues.
My advice: never give up. Don’t let anyone destroy your dreams. The more you write, the better you’ll be. Not everything you write is a winner, but you can never have a winner without experimenting and occasionally failing. That is the nature of writing.
Foul mouthed critics may be difficult to handle but think about what it feels like for true assessment of your writing (or conduct, attitude,skill set) to be kept away from you allowing you fool around. That’s what I get to do with anyone who would not appreciate criticism. I mean, if you’re really competent, offering criticism is like doing pro bono consultancy. And if someone will get offended to boot, then its not worth my while. Simple.
You are not your writing. Don’t take criticism as attacking you personally. Sometimes that tough comment is the one you need to hear.
Negative critique can be just as helpful as positive and I think it helps just take a step back and get some perspective. Writing can always be re-written. If fact writing IS re-writing. If somebody is just going to write something nasty (and yes it does happen to everyone) then you have to accept that person’s opinion is null and void. Saying mean things about another persons work without being constructive or even giving reason, in my humble opinion, is nothing more than a pointless attack. It has no business in criticism and should not be respected. Bottom line: Don’t seek the approval of morons.
I’ve found that when critics unleash the kraken, that there is usually only one or two things that actually need to be fixed. I pick one global problem that needs to be corrected. After I set it aside for a while, I’ll take a look at the second problem. The third problem is usually not helpful nor unbiased.
Sometimes the critic may be right about the place that is the problem, yet be wrong about how it should be fixed. Consider whether that place or part is doing what you want it to do if you are not there to explain it. Also, sometimes the critic wants to re-write your work. They can write their own work, and you write yours. Again, is the aspect they are trashing doing the job that you want it to do in your piece?
Also, some people just like to hear themselves talk. Also also, when you have only a hammer, the whole world is a nail.