Handle criticism by the lapels
Reader question: “What should I do when someone criticizes my writing? This hurts!”
Nothing hurts more than criticism for a Creative. If you are sensitive because of additional reasons, such as Asperger’s or surviving abuse, that makes it even harder. If your attacker (and that is what they seem to be) were to slash you a few times with a straight razor and dump a bucket of rubbing alcohol on you… yeah, that would be about how much criticism stings.
Experts advise “develop a thick skin” as the way to handle criticism. That is so cliché. And just how does one go about doing that? There are all these “pie-in-the-sky” platitudes about writing, and people aren’t telling new writers exactly HOW to do the things they’re telling them to do. I’m not here to tell you “you should” do this or that. I’m just here to help people who write or want to write, by giving the real deal, things that are actually useful. I hate BS, and that’s what so many resources on writing are full of.
No one’s writing is going to be liked by everyone, no matter how famous or skilled the writer is. So, yes, some people are going to dislike it and complain about what you write. Does that mean the way you should handle criticism is to ignore those people? No. Well, some people you should ignore. But most people, most criticism… Don’t ignore it. Neither should you wallow in it.
I think there is often some truth to a critical remark. Some truth. That doesn’t mean they’re right. It doesn’t mean your writing is horrible, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re horrible. It means that there MIGHT be some part of it that is true. If you are wise, if you want to improve your writing and continue to get better (and we all should, even the millionaire writers in our ranks), then finding that nugget of truth is a good thing to do. Just be sure you don’t break your metal detector in the process.
Here are a couple of approaches you might want to try out as ways to handle criticism.
Step back emotionally, grab a drink, and look at the piece as if you’re just a reader. It’s just a book (article, etc.) you came across at the library one day and you thought you’d pick it up and look it over. What do you think of it? What is missing that might make things clearer to the reader? What could the creator have done better? How would you do it if you were the writer? (It’s a sneaky little thing to do to your brain, there, but it can work, and it can work well.)
Another way to handle criticism:
Get emotional. Vent. Rant. Rave. Cuss (if that’s your thing. It’s my thing. God forgive my potty mouth). Yell at God. Give the critic a piece of your mind as you scream it to the air (and that’s where it should stop, in the air). Tell them why they’re wrong, completely and totally wrong.
Then, progress to, “Okay, maybe you’re the teensiest bit right. If you WERE the teensiest bit right, it would be about…” and say what they might be right about. Make a list. Then let it go and forget about it for a while. When I say “for a while,” how long that is really depends on you.
Verbally abusive email
The worst, most abusive and scathing email I ever got took me years to be able to handle well. It wasn’t about my writing (that was about the only thing they still admitted that I do well), but the same process applies.
For three days after reading it the first time, I was shell-shocked from being betrayed beyond belief. Lies. Just damned lies. I reread it a few days later, and admitted that okay, maybe one percent of what they’d said had some merit. I let it sit. I read it again a few weeks later, and okay, maybe 5% is applicable, and that’s it. It stayed that way for a while. A year after that: okay, I can see how they believe what they wrote, though they are insane (no, really, guys, they are). More than three years after that nasty email came, I think there is a little truth (50% truth?) to about half of the claims they made. I can see it from their perspective and see why they said those things.
Grain of truth in criticism
So, to do the math on that…1/2 of 1/2 is 1/4. One fourth of what they said has merit. That’s not very much, BUT I’m not going to toss out that 1/4 of the email with the rest of the thing just because 3/4 of it is horse apples. That 25% could and has made me a better person. What they intended for evil has been used for good.
So after you’ve let that criticism sit and cure a while, take another look at it, and see where else they might have been just the tiniest bit right. Write it down. After you’ve done this as many times as you feel the need, then take a look at it with an eye to revision. Incorporate the changes your critics were so kind to hand you, even though it was presented in a pile of donkey donuts.