How to Deal with Critical Comments to Your Writing #WritingWednesdays

Handling criticism is never easy. Whether you’re an actor, a programmer or singer, listening to negative comments about your work can hurt. And I personally think that it can be harder for a writer. After all, for every writer, writing is what Ernest Hemingway described as to “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” We open up our heart and soul and let the words flow, giving vent to emotions and thoughts that even we didn’t know were harbored deep inside. And when you have to deal with critical comments to your writing, it can touch some sore spots!

All Criticism isn’t Evil

Studies show that humans are more likely to remember negative comments than positive ones. This may actually be a blessing when it comes to constructive criticism to your writing. It gives you valuable feedback about the quality of your writing and helps you identify your weaknesses. It also helps you discover new aspects of your style and you begin to see what sets you apart from other writers. At any rate, hearing a few negative comments from time to time keeps you grounded, and makes you strong enough to deal with reviews from ‘sharks’ when you start writing for the big league!

How to Deal with Critical Comments to your Writing

1. Look at the Source

If you spend even a little time on social media these days, you know that there are people out there who’ll say mean things just for the sake of it, even if they have absolutely no authority to comment on the matter at hand. Are your negative reviews coming from trolls like them? If so, just ignore them right away. The critical comments you should be considering are those from experts in your niche, experienced writers, or people you look up to. They’re the ones who’ll have comments of true value.

2. Get Detached

For a writer, it’s hard to think of what they’re doing as just a job, but when it comes to objectively analyzing your work, it helps to at least pretend it is so. If the negative comments are overwhelming, it works best to just stay away from them for a while. When you’re feeling more stable, come back and go through the comments again. Keeping your emotions aside will help you look at what the reviewer is actually saying about your writing, and that is where the useful stuff is!

3. Look for Commonalities

Trying to deal with critical comments can be hard when it’s just one or two, but a bunch of them can actually prove quite useful! By looking at all the comments at once, you might find a few common threads running through the reviews, which pinpoint your areas of improvement. Some writers read and re-read negative reviews from sources they trust – each reading throws up something they hadn’t realized earlier.

4. Discuss it with Someone you Trust

Sometimes all you need is a different perspective. You can’t help but take negative comments about your writing personally, but another individual can be more objective. Haven’t you heard the quote ‘The best mirror is an old friend“?  Share your reviews with someone you trust, and they might be able to give you better insight into what the reviewers are trying to say. They might also put it across in language that’s a little less harsh!

5. Look for Hidden Compliments

Occasionally, negative comments are just compliments in disguise. Some reviews may indicate that your writing is incredibly powerful and can touch people. Maybe you speak the raw truth which is making someone uncomfortable, resulting in hateful comments. It could also be that a fellow writer is writing or has written something in a similar genre as you, and he or she is now feeling insecure since you’re doing a better job than they are!

6. Let it go

Sometimes, no matter how articulate you are, what you write might come across as something completely different from what you meant. A lot of this depends upon the reader’s individual personality, experiences and circumstances, and on how objective they are being while reviewing. Since there’s not really much you can do in this situation, just go with Elsa from Frozen – let it go!

If you ever feel completely let down by a bad review or negative comment, just remember that classic books like ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘The Great Gatsby’ and even ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ have received terrible reviews at one time. A bad review or two is in no way an accurate reflection of you as a writer. As American writer Elbert Hubbard said, “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” So don’t worry, all those negative reviews are your stepping stones to greatness!

Published by Fabida Abdulla

Fabida is an erstwhile Software Engineer and current Freelance Writer cum stay-at-home mom to her boisterous 6-year-old. In between all the writing, baking, nagging, reading, and cuddling, she manages to blog a bit about her crazy life at Shocks and Shoes.

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  1. Good post Fabida. I always go back to something Brene Brown says- if you aren’t in the arena, if you’re not putting yourself out there too, I don’t need to listen to anything you have to say.

    Oftentimes people are critical because something is not working out for them and they are on edge. Some people are perfectionists and cannot bear to see a less than perfect output- never mind how they fall short themselves.

    For me it comes down to my own opinion. I know it sound arrogant, but let me explain.

    It helps me a lot if I can think of my actions/performance with something I call ‘a third person detachment’. As in, I ask myself if I would say I was not doing my best if my work had been done by another person. Over the years, I do manage (not always though) to distance myself and look upon my actions/ work as if it was done by someone else. In that detached state if it seems awful to me, then the critic was absolutely right and I owe them my grateful thanks. If not, then not.

    I wish I could say I always was pleased with myself. Alas, I mostly joined the other in bringing me down a peg or two.

    It isn’t easy being me, just in case you wondered.

    Sorry for the post length comment. I ought to put this up as a post, right? Flesh it out a might a sling it across? Hmm. Very tempting. I might do it for two pence. Or none. Sigh.

  2. Good post, Fabida. You raised some very relevant points. There’s no denying that critical feedback is important to our growth as writers and bloggers and yet, often we take those words personally and feel bad about it because someone has clearly violated the norms and ended up sounding rude. I think the key element for me would be to identify the validity of the source(s) and then, objectively look at the issues and see if there’s a pattern emerging, so I can work at it and improve. But it’s also good to remember it is only one individual’s opinion and it is up to us to take it or leave it there.

  3. It’s a wonderful post that hits a bulls-eye. I was victim to abuse in the form of criticism just yesterday where a Hindi poet told me ‘to first read a few good poets before attempting poetry’ and that ‘it isn’t my aukaat to bless mother India’, among other crude comments. This makes up for a bad day :). Cheers.

  4. Fabida, I love The saying, ‘do the very best you can then put up your old umbrella to keep the rain of criticism from running down the back of your neck’.
    Handling critical comments on your writing is a tough ask but we can’t grow and improve without a few reality checks in the form of constructive feedback. Like you said, look for the source, be detached and read the comments, both good and bad. Sometimes it is best to let it go.
    Recently I received a comment about a technical aspect of my site and I am grateful for the same because I listened and took steps to remove the glitch making my site easier to access. This could be my post for our Wednesday prompt- listen 🙂