Thursday, July 26, 2012

Coping with Criticism

There's been a lot of talk recently in various writerly circles about how writers handle criticism, particularly in the form of negative reviews.

I've been unreasonably fortunate so far -- unless I've suppressed a memory, I haven't gotten any truly negative comments/reviews on my published work so far. I'm well aware that a large part of this track record, though, is that my readership is rather small. I'm certain that I'll end up facing negative comments on future stories in one form or another. And though I can imagine it might cause me a bit of angst, particularly the first few times I encounter that, I intend to do my best to not let negative reviews get me down.

Here are some of the things that I'll try to remember when the day arrives where I first am faced with someone who publicly says they really didn't care for something I had written.
  1. Everyone likes different things in fiction. There simply aren't going to be any universally-liked stories. Different people take different things from each story that is published. For that matter, even a single individual might react differently to a story on one day than they would if they read the same story on a different day, in a different mood, having read a different set of other stories recently.
  2. It's not personal. This one's a bit harder, especially since there are times when -- for a writer -- a story is very personal to them. There are certainly some stories of mine that I have more of an emotional investment in than others. I suspect that it will be harder to read negative comments of those stories than of others. But as far as the criticism being given, that is not personal. The reviewer isn't saying that they don't like you; just that they didn't like the story which you had written. And if the comments that they leave are personal -- calling you, the writer, out rather than your story -- then I think it's somewhat reasonable to presume that they weren't made with good intentions. The best thing I can think of there is to put it out of your mind. While a negative comment about a story would have the potential to help you improve your craft for future stories, a negative comment about you can't do any good.
  3. If you have to vent about it, do so privately. I don't think much looks worse for a writer than to complain about negative reviews. If you really have to grumble and get it off your chest, do so in a private conversation with friends, not in a public forum. And remember, that just about everywhere on the Internet is a public forum.
I'll close with this thought which, in fact, was the origin for this post. I recently got the following fortune in a cookie after a meal: "If you have no critics you'll likely have no success." You can interpret that two ways -- that everyone needs constructive criticism to do their best or that the only way to avoid criticism is to be so "under the radar" that you're probably not meeting most definitions of "success." Both seem valid, though it was the second interpretation that I first keyed in on when reading the slip.

I hope that everyone has a great writing weekend and that all your reviews are positive!


  1. All great advice. I hope to try and not read my reviews. Fingers crossed.

  2. Wonderful advice. Usually just some time and chocolate help me out.

  3. Sage advice, Michael. I read the second interpretation of the fortune cookie as: if you're not ticking someone off, you're not having much of an impact.

  4. Wonderful words of wisdom. I've read a few occasions where the writer attempted to respond to a negative review in a positive way but was still thrashed. So quiet-as-kept seems the best route when it comes to dealing with negative reviews.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I'm glad you've found this piece useful!