How do you deal with criticism?


As I new writer I have done something that will probably have all you seasoned novelists covering your face and shaking your head in despair. I (whispers) showed my first draft to someone to get an opinion.  Not just someone either. My sister. Much as I love her she is always guaranteed to call a spade a spade. I knew that, but I did it anyway.

Attempting my first piece of writing over 100 words has been overwhelming. I love to read books but trying to create one, well, if you’ve tried, you know. I never thought it would be easy but, shrugs.

So I plotted, created characters and wrote and at 15,000 words broke into a cold sweat. Did this make any sense? Was it engaging? Could I do this?  Even though this was a rough first draft I guess I wanted validation that I had something worth developing, worth all the hours, the waking at 3 am to tweak the plot or finish the chapter.

I emailed it over to my sister. I knew I could rely on her to be totally honest with me. And she was. ‘It’s so depressing it made me want to slit my wrists and not carry on reading. Oh and I don’t like your language.’

Hmmm ok. Let’s not point out that I haven’t actually reached the really sad bit in the middle yet.

I know she is trying to support me and I appreciate her help. I will take her comments on board and am sure that when I have finished wiping my tears off the keyboard I will carry on. Next time I ask for an opinion I will keep the following words in mind: –

“Don’t let people’s compliments go to your head and don’t let their criticism go to your heart”.

So, how do you deal with criticism – constructive or otherwise?

17 thoughts on “How do you deal with criticism?

  1. How do I deal with criticism? I don’t know – the people to whom I give my work to read never get back to me. That might be criticism in and off itself…

    I do think there’s wisdom in the advice to now show your first draft to anyone, at least here in the early days when you’re still only learning. Don’t worry about being on the right track. It’s fairly certain you aren’t (I’m speaking from personal experience here) and even the second draft will be unrecognisable from the first for the amount of rewriting you’re going to do. How we call it fun is anyone’s guess…

  2. I showed my first attempt at a novel to MY sister. She had grown up with my early attempts at literature – my cowboy comic strips, then some essays, articles and poetry. But I do wish she’d actually said something about the novel other than “Well …”
    I think it’s best not to ask the opinion of someone you’ve grown up with – but having done so, you need to follow up with questions: What? How? Why? question in particular.
    And I don’t know where your quotation comes from, but I like it.

    • You can always rely on family to give it to you straight! I have come to the conclusion that many of my favourite books are quite sad. I guess that often comes with the women’s literary fiction genre. I am not sure who the quote originates from but loved the sentiment.

  3. I thank them for being honest and then go away and have a little cry 😦

    I don’t think I’d ever let a first draft get anywhere near someone I knew!

  4. What was it about your language she didn’t like? Are we talking profanities, slang or something else? Giving your first draft to someone you know is always a worry – especially if they don’t have a background in writing fiction.

  5. If they are giving me constructive criticism, even if it sounds harsh because there’s no helping that, I’ll take it for what it is, marinate on it, and attempt to fix the problems while reigning in any private emotional meltdowns. 🙂

    If someone is not being constructive and/or reaming me out because that’s simply what they enjoy doing to people, I tell them to please rethink their remarks so as to give me something I can actually work with OR I give them 25 cents to go buy themselves a personality.

  6. Isn’t that such a temptation though? – to show the draft to someone while you’re working on it. I find there are pros and cons to showing/not showing, but that showing a draft increases the likelihood of crushing momentum to finish (after the critique. Before the critique, it actually has a temporary boost to momentum because I might be showing it to someone).

    I made the “mistake” (I don’t really mind since I learned from it) of showing a developing fantasy novel to my husband at an early stage. He read the first chapter… out loud! …with voices… Then, being the copy-editor he is, proceeded to criticize every bit and piece he could find until all I could do was just cry that I had spent a solid two months on something I had to entirely rework (again) and that he wouldn’t even read past the first chapter. I couldn’t even look at the manuscript for weeks (though I took note of the changes that I wanted to make in regards to the comments he made).

    That was earlier this year. Now that it’s been a few months I’m feeling confident in returning to the manuscript, but like hell if I’m going to ask him to read over it again unless I have a completely finished draft! It just slows my momentum waaaay too much to do it while the draft is being written.

    Other than that, I deal with criticism the best way possible that I can manage at the time. I usually reserve any talk-back comments to contemplate on my own when I’m alone with the manuscript. I try to keep the other perspective in mind, but it’s not about making the piece universally-likeable, but instead /successful/.

    Some of the best critiques I have gotten were from people (other writers) that thought they were tearing my manuscript apart, but hadn’t realized that the emotions and reactions they had to the piece were exactly the ones that I intended to evoke. Even with the first chapter mishap, I had wanted the reader to be confused, which my partner was, but I hadn’t seriously considered that might deter some from continuing to read into chapter two (yes, in retrospect I realize my logic about that wasn’t entirely sound so I’m correcting the chapter to be less confusing).

    Sometimes, the intended thematic emotion is overly powerful (too successful?), like you mention with the sadness in your piece. When it comes to conveying emotions in writing, sometimes writers go overboard further than they actually need to without knowing it just because they’re new. It’s nice to find this out when it is happening. At least, I like it better than when the opposite intended emotion occurs and you don’t know why. xD

    • Oh Dominika. Your story about your husband reading out loud with voices made me laugh so much! I guess it’s all a learning curve. I will try to get back to it next week. Thanks for the advice (and the laugh)!

  7. My husband looks bewildered when I read him poetry that doesn’t rhyme, he doesn’t get it but fortunately for me, people on here seem to. I am writing a fantasy children’s novel with him though and his style is far more hard hitting than mine. I re-write some of it without telling him LOL. I know when I eventually get through that it will need completely re-editing anyway as I still have done too much telling rather than showing. I came across a quote recently, “the first draft is when I tell myself the story” and I found that really helpful

Thanks so much for reading!

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