How to Deal With Writing Criticism

How to Deal With Writing Criticism

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. – Winston Churchill

Dealing with criticism is one of the most important skills you have to develop to be successful in writing – and in life.

I used to get really hurt and instantly defend myself if I received any type of hateful email. And in the beginning of my podcasting days, these weren’t uncommon.

I remember being crushed every single time I read one. I had put so much thought, heart and research into what I was doing, and yet here I was enraging people.

Looking back now I feel those people had a point, even though they could have conveyed their messages a little more nicely. I’ve found it’s better, both personally and career-wise, to take criticism in before dismissing it or feeling sorry for yourself.

I wish it hadn’t taken me years to learn, but I finally developed a few ways of turning criticism – even really harsh criticism – to your advantage.

Listen to criticism

The most important and hardest part about being criticized is to listen to the other person without interrupting. It’s natural that you immediately want to defend yourself and your actions.

Wait it out. Criticism can be hard to hear, but the other person is trying to tell you something they feel passionate about. Hear what they have to say, in its entirety, before you start talking back.

Be open to criticism

When you’re criticized, don’t shut down and let the flow of words wash over you. Instead, try to be as open as possible to what your critic is saying. Sometimes it takes a while to realize that the criticism wasn’t far off base.

Consider the nuggets of truth. The way the person is expressing criticism may be awful – but they may have some valid points that save their communication from being a complete waste.

Don’t take criticism personally

Yes, sometimes people criticize you because they don’t like you, are bored or have their own issues. But when someone genuinely criticizes your work, you should try to push your ego aside.

Remember that you and your work are entirely separate entities. When it comes to your work, try to be as objective as possible and detach your self-worth from what you’re doing.

Discuss criticism

The more questions you ask your critic, the more clarifications you get. It’s important to realize sometimes people like to criticize others “just because”. But others mean well, more often than not.

The deeper you’re willing to dig, the faster and easier distinguishing well-meaning feedback becomes.

Ask for criticism

Once you’ve gotten really good at dealing with criticism, asking for it can be a useful way to bring your work to the next level. The more regularly you ask trusted mentors or colleagues about their honest opinion, the better the chances that you’ll improve your skills.

Act on criticism

This is by far the hardest thing to do. Taking criticism well is valuable, but it isn’t the end of the story.

After you’ve considered what the critic has shared (maybe even realized that there is some truth to it), it’s time for you to implement the critic’s suggestions. Change and growth is a habit. If you simply absorb criticism without acting on it, the entire process of listening was for nothing.

For extra credit, thank your critics for taking the time to let you know their thoughts. Yours is the highest road.

What are your secrets to mastering the art of taking criticism?

Post by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt

Anne-Sophie Reinhardt is an anorexia survivor, self-love ambassador, body image expert and the owner of aMINDmedia. She’s the author of The Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Body Image and empowers you to achieve a healthier and more successful life by returning to your true purpose and values.

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  1. Good post. This is a universal struggle and the notion of separating ourselves from our work is an important one. Often I have found criticism shines a light on interpretation (after all the majority of work done with art is after we have let go of it) – so often people have read things into what i’ve done, or interpreted things (validly through their own lens, experience – subjectivity), and given me insights into HOW something might be received by others. I find this fascinating. It’s really easy to get defensive and be all ‘well that’s not what i meant, you’ve read it wrong’… etc But actually i’ve had some fascinating discussions out of these types of encounters. And it is only possible to diffuse the passion and sometimes anger of a critic by approaching these encounters humbly and with a perpetual willingness to learn.

    • I love that approach, Andy. Being curious and simply inquiring is a great way of turning what may hurt around and actually enriching your life because of it.

    • This is so true: criticism can be hard to take, but it’s a matter of contrast between the way we see our work and the way others see it. When I first had a novel professionally edited I thought most of the criticism was just his way of looking at it, and that others would surely see it my way. Then about 6 months down the road I realised that actually no, most people would see it his way, because they were readers and I was the author, giving us very different perspectives. I made almost every change he suggested, appreciating that if my writing wasn’t aimed at delivering the same perspective from my readers that I saw, then it simply wasn’t good enough. It’s easier to take criticism less personally when you appreciate that the reader’s approaching your writing from a different angle.

  2. Debby Marcy says:

    It’s crucial not to take criticism personally – very difficult but essential. Embrace criticism. If it’s justified, you will know in your hear of hearts and it will be a learning curve. It ‘s not, don’t piggy bank it. Let it go.

    • Debby, you phrased it wonderfully. If there’s even the slightest nugget of truth to it, you will feel it and after a while, you’ll be able to change or become better. Easier said than done though, isn’t it?

    • Thank you, Debby! As someone who piggy banks every morsel of criticism from my colleagues, this was a great reminder of separating what to accept as constructive criticism for self-improvement from what needs to be put in one’s emotional recycle bin – then permanently deleted.

  3. I really enjoyed your post Anne-Sophie.

    I think that posting a hostile, critical response defies the unwritten rules of blog etiquette. When a writer puts their creation out to the world, they’re taking a risk. The only appropriate response is to be support of their effort, even if there might be points of disagreement. Without that supportive element, a critic comes across as a mean-spirited, self-serving person.

    That being said, a response can have little to do with you as a writer. It’s more about the responder and where their heart’s at.

    • Joe, you’re so right. Unfortunately the web is full of people who believe that writers/bloggers/authors don’t have feelings or deserve to be belittled. I find that people can be meaner on the internet than they’d ever be in real life. But there are also a lot of people who really mean well and who give you constructive points on how you can improve your content/website etc.

  4. Excellent Post. I have recently switched to a new job after 20 years in my past career. I recently received a complaint about my work from other staff half my age. It was poorly delivered but I made sure I listened even if it was painful. Thank you so much for the encouragement to take the higher road. I was feeling alone but you reminded me,they were right, I don’t know everything and that is okay. Thank you for the bright note on my Monday.

    • Michael, I’m so happy to hear that this post lifted you up a bit. It’s never easy to hear criticism (and anyone who says otherwise is lying in my opinion), so I applaud you for realizing that it’s OK to be human and to have gaps of knowledge. I think the best thing is to learn from it and then move on. Good luck in your new job.

  5. Anne-Sophie, very helpful and insightful post. Dealing with criticism effectively requires a strong sense of self-worth. As a former psychotherapist who now coaches, I tell my clients that if you are upset with what someone says, it is because the “criticizer” has tapped into a belief you already have about yourself.

    If you have a strong sense of your worth and your capabilities, you are able to decide if you agree with the criticism or not. If you agree, you feel good because you have learned something and can improve your work–without feeling less of a person or as a professional. If you disagree with the criticism, you simply disagree with it without feeling less of a person or as a professional.

    It’s not criticism that disturbs us, it’s what we do with it. If we believe the criticism and turn around and beat ourselves up, we will feel bad. If we believe the criticism and don’t beat ourselves up or if we simply disagree with the criticism, we end up feeling strong, secure and calm.

    The takaway? Always be growing your self-worth, self-esteem and self-love. It’s the foundation for everything else.

    • I love that, Alan. You really said it brilliantly and I agree that self-love and self-esteem are the most important aspect to being confident in life and in writing. If you have a good relationship with yourself, nobody can make you feel “less than”. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I like how this article focuses on transforming criticism into a positive. However, we also need to be realistic. Not all criticism paves the way to high quality. Many writers have grappled with a person (e.g., a boss, colleague or client) editing good writing into bad writing. Yes, we have to pick our battles, but I don’t think it serves any profession not to reply to this kind of feedback. One way is to reply, “I know what you’re getting at here, so how about changing that sentence to [insert another alternative]?” In my experience, the person nearly always accepts the alternative.

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