• Madison Siwak

How to Handle Criticism as a Writer.

by Lindsay Elizabeth

Writing is a mostly solitary process until it’s time to invite readers into your world for feedback. I know, I know — you’re probably cringing at the very thought of it. It’s a stage that’s both exciting and terrifying.

Constructive criticism is a valuable part of the writing process because it allows us to see our stories through fresh eyes, strengthen our projects, and grow as authors.

Here are four things to help you handle constructive criticism as a writer so it can be a more positive experience.

How to Handle Constructive Criticism as a Writer

Appreciate That Art is Subjective

Art is a form of self-expression. By nature, it’s always going to be unique because each creator is a unique mixture of experiences, perspectives, and tastes — just like each person who comes into contact with it.

Look through the negative reviews (1-3 stars) of a few of your favorite works. Besides the handful of reviews that are critical just for the sake of being critical, you’ll see that people’s tastes and perspectives vary wildly on a multitude of elements. No opinion is more right than the other, they’re just different.

We all have different ways of seeing and experiencing the world — and all of those things make our relationship with art very personal.

Instead of resenting this or feeling pressure over the fact that you can’t please everyone, shift your perspective to how much freedom this gives you — and the fact that there is something out there for all of us.

Show gratitude for the privilege that we aren’t all forced to like and resonate with the same things.

And if what we want isn’t already out there, we can make it ourselves.

Write for Yourself

Some of the feedback I’ve received from beta readers on my own work is directly contradicted by other readers. If you assume there is only one “right way” to write a book, this would drive you mad because then, what’s the answer? What is “correct”? What is “good”?

The thing is, with art, there is no “right” answer — there is only YOUR answer. You get to decide as the creator. What do you like? What feels best to you?

You’re the artist, so this is your creative vision. You get the final say.

It’s like trying to decide between two dresses to wear. You ask your two best friends with different style preferences — one loves the solid black dress while the other loves the colorful, patterned one. Which one do you go with? Whichever one you feel best in, of course!

Define Your Goals and Intentions

Whenever you establish a relationship with a critique partner or beta reader, get clear on what your goals and intentions are around feedback.

Constructive readers are not just for external validation. Of course, we’re human, so it’s definitely nice to get an encouraging boost from positive feedback. There’s nothing wrong with that! But, if you go into the process solely looking for compliments and approval, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Constructive feedback is meant to be that — constructive. It’s an opportunity to strengthen your project and for you to grow as a writer by seeing your story through other people’s eyes. It’s then up to you what feedback you’ll keep and what you’ll toss.

First, set your intention (such as making your book as strong as possible, discovering new ways to take it to the next level, etc). Then, define exactly what you’re looking for from constructive feedback to achieve that intention (such as thoughts on pacing, characters, story, etc).

Don’t Make It About You

This may sound counterintuitive at first because our work literally feels like a piece of us transferred to the page. But once you’ve completed it, it becomes something that exists separately from you — and your self-worth should not be tied to what people think of it.

Don’t make the criticism you get about yourself. Their opinions are not a reflection of you, they’re a reflection of them. People are going to bring all of their own personal experiences to your work when they read it, which consists of many variables, none of which you have control over.

I love this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert from one of my favorite books on creativity, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:

“Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

I hope these tips have helped you shift your mindset around receiving constructive criticism, so you can feel empowered to fully embrace that part of the writing process.

Best of luck — you’ve got this!

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