Handling Criticism

Recently I received criticism about myself. I didn’t like it. Like all humans, I prefer praise. However, the points made were from someone (not connected to the publishing industry) I know has my best interests at heart, so I stepped back, tried to review the criticism without emotion, and I hope I learned from it. I can say I learned enough to take steps to improve.

Our writing lives are affected by our moods and situations, so whether the criticism is leveled at ourselves or our work, we need to assess accordingly. Not all criticism is valid, but we can learn from an occasional reassessment. When you are criticized, consider:

1) Source: Is the person someone who knows you well enough to make the criticism something you should listen to?

2) Knowledge: Does the person have enough knowledge of the publishing industry/your genre/your work that her opinion holds weight?

3) Content: Sometimes criticism isn’t given with tact, even (or maybe especially by) people we love most. To gain knowledge, look beyond the delivery to the meat of the words to see what’s worth keeping and what needs to go.

4) Relationship: It’s easier to heed the words of a friend than an enemy. But an enemy can be valuable because he doesn’t see us through the lens of friendship. Are your enemy’s painful words true? God uses all types of people to communicate to us. Prayer can be a guide here.

Whether the criticism is about yourself or your work, let the person know you considered his viewpoint. Do you what you can to maintain peace. Learning isn’t always fun, but it is always beneficial.

Your turn:

What was the most difficult criticism you have received? How did you respond?

What was the most helpful criticism you have ever received?

26 Responses to Handling Criticism

  1. Tessa October 11, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    I’ve not really had any true criticism yet because my manuscript is still on my computer! However, I have had it critiqued, and I struggled the first time I read the comments and remarks because I felt like my ‘self’ was being attacked. When I realized the purpose was to make my writing better, I was able to step away from the situation and look at it objectively. (As objectively as a writer can look at his or her own work!)

    Now that I think about it, I believe this might fall into the category of helpful criticism.

  2. Anne Love October 11, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    The best criticism I received was a paid for critique from My Book Therapy ending in an hour long “therapy session” by phone with Rachel Hauck. Looking back I can see what she said was critical to pushing my craft forward, but at the time it was difficult to apply. But it was the best thing I could have done at that point in my writing.

    I think all your points are valid whether you are a writer or not!

  3. Jennifer Major @Jjumping October 11, 2012 at 4:44 am #

    I recently was awarded a critique in a contest, at the same time I was asked for a proposal and 3 chapters. I *thought* the proposal and samples would be the one that would launch something bigger. And I was excited about the critique, but I knew almost nothing about the person doing it.
    God has a way of sprinkling us with humble coloured glitter when we think we’re all that and a bag of chips.
    The proposal was well received, but the sample chapters? Not so much. A few suggestions were made, an email or two sent and I went and curled up with enough chocolate to feed the whole offensive line of the Green Bay Packers.
    The ridiculously humble and gracious person doing the critique took 3 chapters instead of one. I saw only the negatives in her comments until my crit partners did the right thing and smacked me upside the head and pointed tot eh actual words used. I went back and combed over her words and took her suggestions to heart. I tweeked my opening 3 chapters and am much happier with them.
    But I am most happy that this published writer took the time to help me and aim me toward the right direction. She said some extremely flattering things about my writing that just about slayed me. When I did a bit of research, I found out just how blessed I am to have her in my corner. She has HUGE amount of books in print and I nearly passed out when I saw her track record.
    Criticism from my crit partners is very important, but when Yoda smiles and pats you on the head? Wow.

    • Jeanne October 11, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      I know what you mean, Jennifer. This calling requires much humility, yes?

      • Jennifer Major @Jjumping October 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

        Yes it does. It’s nice to know that there are some very accomplished, very famous, very respected writers out there who get excited to help a newbie along and offer encouragement. Those people have long, humble memories.
        And then when they say “I know how you feel, can I offer you some advice?” Well, YES!
        Humble pie is one thing, but humble pie with ice cream and a cherry on top is a whole other ball game.

  4. Jill Kemerer October 11, 2012 at 4:57 am #

    Criticism is always hard to take! But I’ve learned to separate criticism from critiques in my writing. I’m really blessed to have tactful, honest cp’s! Even when I get professional feedback, I follow your suggestions–I consider the source and I analyze the comments to make sure they ring true. :)

  5. Kathy Eberly October 11, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    I entered a contest last year and received a great deal of criticism for my manuscript. At first I was depressed. I put the critiques away and forgot about them without really looking at them. Then, I opened them. I found that people hadn’t been as hard on me as I thought. I took the ones I valued the most to heart and the rest I dismissed. Criticism is very much needed in life to keep us from being complacent.

  6. Kelly Anne Liberto October 11, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    This is a great post! My harshest critic turned out to be one of my best friends as I took her words to heart and prayed about what was said. If we can take a step back and truly look at our detractors, oftentimes, we can grow from the change that comes out of recognizing the truth in their words. I agree God can use anyone as a means to make us better writers, better people.

  7. Diana Harkness October 11, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    When I am well rested and alert, I do not react to criticism. That strategy keeps me from becoming defensive. I take time to consider it, take it to God, and ask others if it is valid. If it is valid, I take steps to correct it. The most difficult criticism comes from my husband because he is the one who I most want to respect me at all times. His is also the most helpful because he knows me better than anyone else. As for my writing, I know that it is a matter of taste and I let criticism fall to the ground. The only people I have to impress with my writing are God, myself, and an agent or publisher, and I tend to me my own worst critic. I push my writing group to critique in love, complimenting the positive before we look at the negative.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2012 at 7:15 am #

      Diana: When I was writing books, my husband read each and every one of them and offered critiques. He was my last reader, and he was a tremendous help!

  8. Connie Almony October 11, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    What wisdom. I often read blogs about taking criticism and learning OR not being crushed by it. This gives the tools to sift through it and make it useful. Thank you for that.
    I don’t think I could name any one criticism as most or least helpful. Being mid-forties I’ve been honed a lot through the critical eye of teachers and loved ones. Sometimes I reacted well and used the information, and other times, maybe not :o). I hope I’m better at learning from it now.

  9. Chris P. October 11, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    Oh criticism is hard – especially when it comes to writing or anything creative. I learned early on as a freelancer that I needed to separate myself from my writing – that the amount of “red ink” was not a reflection of me as a person. It is such a hard thing to remember and it is something I work on all the time.

    I also won a critique in a contest – and I was petrified to let my first 1,000 words be held up to scrutiny. But it turned out so well – the criticism was spot on and tempered with praise – so it was much easier to take.

  10. Debbie Lynne Costello October 11, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    Very thought provoking, Tamela. I’ve had several writing changing critique/criticism from critique partners, friends and mentors. Some were kind of hard to take but because of the relationship I had with them I could swallow their advice. The hardest one was probably from a publisher. This editor had to have taken a LOT of time because she had 2 pages of criticism about my manuscript. I didn’t rant and rave when i got it but I ‘filed’ it after spending the day thinking about what she’d said. I concluded she didn’t ‘get’ my writing. But months later after finishing another manuscript and starting yet another, I got to thinking about some of the things she’d said so I pulled out her letter. And you know it didn’t hurt nearly as bad and I could actually see that she had some very valid points. I think sometimes the best thing to do is to step away and let the criticism sit until it isn’t so painful, then go back and revisit it with less emotions. Amazing how emotions can obscure our vision.

  11. Lindsay Harrel October 11, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Ah, criticism. Can’t write without it, unfortunately, but it can hurt so much! I had a friend beta read my first ever novel. She tore it to shreds. Didn’t say one nice thing about it. Said things like, “I know you’re going to want to go home and throw a pity party over this, but buck up.” Yeah, not much sympathy and not as much tact as I would have liked.

    But when I got past the hurt, a lot of her comments made sense.

    Best critique ever: an editor from a publishing house rejected me BUT took the time to give me some AMAZING feedback. I am soooo grateful to her for that. I am on the watch for my tendencies toward certain things that she pointed out, and have my CP looking for them too.

  12. Lori Ann Freeland October 11, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Thank you for sharing this. You know that I go crazy over criticism. It’a a lesson that God is continually teaching me :)

  13. Polly Eckert October 11, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    As a teacher and coach (in a very wordly atmosphere) from my youth up, I became way too familiar with giving and receiving critcism.
    In attempting to write, I received a rather stiff dose of criticism from a well published pair of writing critiquers.I approached one of them afterward for clarification thinking this was all good and exactly what I needed.I was prepared to throw it out and start over.
    That night God reprimanded me. The writing He was giving me was too exposed in His opinion and the so called professional input sort of ‘constipated’ the whole writing process in me. He didn’t like it one bit.
    So yes, again, we live out the scripture that He is first in all things. He likes to engage my innocent, pure effort. He will lead me to those He wants to help me. And I am more than ready for that because I don’t write that well. But He likes it!? That trumps everything.
    Thanks for the chance to input. I pray it speaks to someone else b/c you’ll never hear this in a critique group.

  14. Heather Day Gilbert October 11, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Great, great post, Tamela, and something I’ve been saying for awhile. With crits, you take the good, you think about the bad and see if it applies. If not, forget it. Put it in the distant past. IF it strikes a chord as something that will make your work stronger, implement it!

    AND if you get the exact same advice from random readers/critters, you really need to sit up and take notice. God has ways of surrounding us with people who will tell us what we need to hear, if we’re listening.

  15. Terri Weldon October 11, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Tamela – excellent subject. The hardest criticism for me to handle came from a contest. The judge hated my heroine and it broke my heart. I put the comments away for a couple of weeks and when I came back to the comments I saw the validity. To this day I still remember and draw from those comments.

  16. Jeanne October 11, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    This may sound bad, but I can’t remember the worst criticism I’ve received. Yes, I’ve received some. I think I tend to consider it, learn from it, and move forward, at least when it comes to my writing.

    My first response is to shrink inside myself when criticism is given. Then, as I have time and some distance to consider the words, kind or not, I can glean truths from it and discard the rest. I wish I could say I always do this without angst, but I don’t. I have to work through the emotion before I can glean. :)

  17. Meghan Carver October 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Criticism is so much easier to take when it also comes with some encouragement. An agent once wrote to me that my writing sounded like I was trying too hard. But, he also said that there was a voice that made him want to read further. That bit of positive feedback encouraged me to force myself to relax and keep going. Of course, he was right. Writing is so much more enjoyable when I’m actually sitting in my chair rather than levitating above it with tensed muscles.

  18. Cindy R. Wilson October 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    I’ve definitely received a wide range of criticism in my writing career, from harsh to helpful. Those are good tips to receiving criticism. Another thing I like to do is receive the criticism and take a few days to think about it or set it aside so that when I return to it, I’m not as emotional and have more perspective. Thanks for this post!

  19. Candy October 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    There is a difference between having your writing critiqued and being criticized personally. I’ve been criticized by a person who has never been published on a certain topic and is annoyed because I have published on that topic. Apparently I haven’t suffered as much as this person and, therefore, am not an authority on the subject. Interesting. From this kind of person, I consider the source and ignore the criticism as much as possible.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 17, 2012 at 5:30 am #

      Candy, sometimes criticism reveals more about the speaker than the person being criticized. That person seems to be coming from a place of hurt. You are wise to consider the source.

  20. Kathleen Freeman October 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Wise and wonderful words! Thank you, Tamela, for being humble enough to let us learn from your experience.

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