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5 Tips for Handling Criticism (with a bonus sixth!)

Receiving criticism can be hard, especially if you’re new to the experience.  After spending hours, days, or weeks working on your first real work, something you’ve poured your heart into, to see the same work torn apart can be a gut-wrenching event.

Here are a few tips I’ve collected that have helped me to better handle criticism.  I hope they work as well for you as they have for me.

1.  Remember that your work is separate from you

I remember the first time that I received criticism on a story I’d written.  The words felt like a personal attack.  Almost every paragraph had red ink of some kind…missing punctuation, a suggested rephrasing, a word used incorrectly.  I felt like the red ink was the blood from my very soul, as it was ripped open by my critic’s pen.

Eventually, I realized that the reason I’d felt that way was because I’d poured so much of myself into that particular piece of work–and it was the first time I’d done so.  The reason the criticism stung so much was because it felt like the critic was criticizing me, not the work.

I’ve long since lost that original, critiqued work, but I remember looking it over again much later, seeing that the criticism was focused on the work, not me.  Even more, after I had more experience, I actually agreed with all of the points made.

This leads us to my second tip:

2.  Recognize that the intent of criticism is to improve your writing

The criticism I’d received in my first work focused not on changing the ideas in the story, but instead changing the way I expressed those ideas.  That first set of feedback was tough, but fair–and I’ve found myself passing along many of the same tips to other writers.

When you receive a bit of criticism that stings, ask yourself why.  Do you feel that the criticism is attacking you as a person?  Did you think that a particular phrase was already perfect, and someone completely missed your meaning?

3.  Look at the criticism objectively and see if it has merit

This goes back a bit to the first tip–while you’re recognizing that your work is separate from you, look at the criticism as if you were reading the criticism of someone else’s work.  If the criticism was about someone else’s work, would you agree with the points made?

Also, look at whether the critic simply disagrees with your point of view.  If so, can you come up with arguments against their point of view?  You may be able to strengthen your work by addressing some of those objections up front.

4.  Be grateful for the opportunity to improve

When you receive criticism on something you wrote, be grateful that someone not only took the time to read your work, but cared enough about you as a writer to offer you some suggestions to improve your work.  A critic is your friend–someone who points out your weak areas so that you can improve your work the next time you write.

Many times, as writers, people offer us praise for the work we’ve created.  While this feels good, and motivates us to write more, praise alone does not help us to improve.  Criticism, on the other hand, can help us to recognize both what we do well, as well as what we can improve.

5.  Get smarter

As you get your work critiqued, you may notice that you make the same mistakes over and over.  For example, you might confuse “its” and “it’s”, “affect” and “effect”, or even just tend to write run-on sentences.

Once you’ve identified mistakes that you tend to make, get smarter.  Before you send your work for editing or general criticism, search for your typical mistakes yourself.  This way, you can make your critics work harder…which allows you to improve even more.

Bonus tip:  Remember that you are in control of your work

Remember, you, as the author of a work, have the final say in what goes into the final draft.  You can always choose to ignore a piece of advice.  The job of a critic is to find the weak points of a work–and your job as a writer is to evaluate the criticism and determine if the point requires that you change your work.

In other words, you can always say no.  You are in control of your work.

That being said, having a critic on your side is a valuable asset.  A critic can help you develop a stronger work by discovering your weak areas before you release your work on the world.

Want a critic on your side? Check out our editing service!

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2 Responses to “5 Tips for Handling Criticism (with a bonus sixth!)”

  1. The advice you have given is very helpful.

    Another way to use the criticism is to read it and then walk away for a few days. This allows you digest the suggestions before you have to use them, then reread the suggestions made and look at the original writing as though another writer had written it. This gives you a different perspective.

    Now, rewrite the work using the advice given and compare the two; the rewrite is usually much better.

  2. TheBartender says:

    Sounds like this is an adaptation of tip #3. 🙂

    Agreed…sometimes walking away is the best way to handle the situation. It seems you can always find something to improve! Thanks, Linda!

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