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Freelance Writer Gets Criticism

Okay, you know I earn my living as a freelance writer – mostly through ghostwriting books.

Last week I took a totally different kind of freelance writing job because it offered the possibility of predicting income. In other words, if I did X pieces of freelance writing week I’d get $X – do more and I’d make more, etc.

Assuming I was successful, and I expected to be, I could control the income by the amount of work.

This morning the head of the company sent me an email indicating she didn’t really like some of what I’ve done.

You’d have thought she called me an awful person and made me believe it. I was crushed!

Then I was surprised at how I felt – like a rank beginner with my first writing rejection perhaps. (You can see I don’t always practice what I preach. See Rejection – The First Step To Successful Freelance Writing.)

Freelance Writer With Hurt Feelings

Honestly, I don’t know which was worse, the criticism or the tailspin over them I allowed myself to fall into.

Apparently these ego traps are simply part of being human. Of course, I had thought I was doing a decent, if not good job – but I wasn’t matching the owner’s expectations.

Now, she told me nicely and she pointed to what needed to be fixed. Didn’t matter. I was on the edge of a real pity party.

So I did what I do in a situation like that. I called a friend who I knew would listen first without judgement. Then, the friend asked me if I really believed someone else could make me feel badly about myself.

The answer of course is, at least in theory, no. I know I’m responsible for my own feelings, my own reactions.

Respond Rather Than React

I like to think I respond rather than react most of the time, and probably I do. That’s why I haven’t even attempted to reply to the owner yet.


I’m almost through this self-imposed storm. When I look at the email I see that she’s made a whole bunch of suggestions. In fact, I can tell she’d like me to succeed at this. Most people do want the people they hire to succeed. This gal is good at showing that; not everyone is.

My plan is to stretch, then read the email closely and decide if I want to give this another pass or not. My hunch is, however, I’ll see what she means, or at least know what questions to ask.

What do you do when you’re your writing is criticized?

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Image found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/30268343@N00/292679211/

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • In my former job as a staff grant writer, I had many a proposal come back with more red ink on it than a rack of Bic ballpoints! Most of the time, I rolled with it…of course after reaching for a piece of chocolate and wishing I could have had a bottle in my desk like the days of Mad Men. Then I went back to the computer and tried to figure out what she really wanted. After 8 years of being both soundly criticized and greatly praised (my boss had a PhD in English…yikes), I became a far better, more careful writer. I have been told that writing well and clearly is a rare talent, and I believe it. I now have a different full-time job where I don’t write every day, but now I freelance. I find that people are more appreciative of my grant writing as a freelancer than when I was a staff grant writer. Perhaps it is the clients (or maybe because I am a better writer now…dare I think that….) but I’m a lot more at peace with myself…because now I write because I choose to, not because I have to!

    • Anne

      Years ago I was working on staff at a tiny newspaper in a mountain community in socal. The editor there, whose name escapes me at the moment, was a classic ornery old guy who shouted was generally horrid to us about everything we wrote. But his criticism was right on. Eventually, I wrote a long cutline for a picture of an egg standing on end at noon on the equinox of all things.

      I put it on his desk and cowered at mine waiting for the storm. Minutes passed. Eventually he growled, “come in here!” When I got there he read it again and muttered “not bad.” I felt like I had won the Pulitzer! Many of those lessons stuck to my writing.

  • Anne, James Michener had an interesting quote on this theme:

    “Not too many people work in a job where, waiting out there are three or four hundred people who are paid to tear apart what you’ve done. And often they are brighter than you are, or they know more about the subject than you do, or they wish they had written a book themselves, or done a lot better. Or they just don’t like it! And you have to live with it. I have been very well treated by the critics in the long haul.”
    .-= Steve Amoia´s last blog ..2009-2010 UEFA Champions League Elimination Round: Beckham Returns to Old Trafford =-.

    • Anne

      lol, how true, Steve, and in truth I never thought of it that way. I think I’ll use this one for my Saturday quote post. Thanks.

  • Criticism may sting at first, but you can learn from it. You could also examine “why” you got upset over it. Life lessons are so much fun!

    Remember, you are not being criticized, but your work is. I remind myself of this whenever someone gives me constructive criticism. I take the criticism and apply it to my work because I feel it will make me a stronger writer. If I believe someone is being “nit picky,” I move forward with my life.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..How to Use Facebook to Grow Any Business =-.

    • Anne

      Even though it turned out I’d sent the wrong file and everything is fine, I’m still amazed and looking at why I got so upset… some sort of fear I suspect, since that’s my usual m.o.

  • One of the things I learned about myself a long time ago is that I am easily hurt by criticism. My M.O. is to retreat and lick my wounds. I almost always come to realize I’m being overly sensitive. When I can deal with it objectively, I take the constructive and throw away the nasty.

    Sounds like you have a similar M.O. There is nothing wrong with admitting we’re hurt. It’s how we deal with it that counts. Since I have been freelancing only a little over a year, I find it’s tougher to follow my advice. Criticizing your writing is kind of like saying your baby is ugly.

    Thanks for sharing the feelings and reminding us we are all human. Have a great rest of the day, Anne!
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Health Care Tuesday is Dying for Sleep =-.

  • Great post! I struggle with this too. I’m sure all writers do, beginning and experienced. Like you I talk to friends and also other writers to get a better perspective. It’s insanely difficult at times to not take things personally. The last client I had said, “Uh. Thanks. But no thanks!” Ouch! But I allowed myself to feel sad for about an hour and then I spent time talking to others and eventually asked myself what I learned from the experience and how I could do better next time. For me, it’s a process from self-pity to self-acceptance. But it’s good to know others struggle with this as well.
    .-= Brandi´s last blog ..Guest Post: Writing Lessons I Learned Twice =-.

    • Anne

      Yes, am always glad to know I’m not the only one. Thanks.

  • Sometimes things happen to remind us that we’re only human – typos (gulp), not being on the same page (so to speak) as a client. Even when they’re constructive in their criticism, it’s a blow to realise that we’re not as great as we thought, or hoped, we were 😉

    I had some proofreading work from a new client that unfortunately coincided with a week where I’d taken on some outside work so I could save for something. The result was that, exhausted from my day, I was trying to proofread Japanese English, at 8pm (not my best working time) – and when I sent it back to the client he emailed me back a ‘minimum’ of tracked changes with some very obvious things I’d missed and suggested I sleep on it. I felt about a centimetre tall – especially as in my cover letter I’d gone on about how great my attention to detail was.
    .-= Lucy Smith´s last blog ..Tempting gadgetry =-.

    • Anne

      Yes, Lucy, recognizing when we simply can’t do a decent job… I tend to get stupid about 4 in the afternoon… and honoring that can avoid all sorts of problems – even if it means a slipped deadline.

  • Great post — I had a recent experience with a major new client along similar lines. They were editing me heavily and I was kind of demoralized. But I tried to roll with it and just see if I could get the hang of what they wanted. I’m glad I stuck with it because now I’m part of a great virtual newsroom writing for one of the biggest names in broadcasting and loving the atmosphere there.

    Criticism by talented editors makes us better writers…it stings, but if we can do it, we will grow.

    Carol Tice
    Make a Living Writing: Query Don’ts
    .-= Carol Tice´s last blog ..Query Don’ts =-.

    • Anne

      Well said, Carol. Editors have taught me a lot and often made me look good as well.

  • Tracey

    What do you do when you’re writing is criticized?

    Er…don’t you mean “your”?

    • Anne

      yep … my typos get worse when I’m upset. Thanks.

  • Mike Liechty

    Perhaps your employer has a point. For example, the following sentence appeared in your post:

    I called a friend who I knew would first without judgement.

    • Anne

      could be… I’ll go add the missing word… thanks (blush) and I love the name of your website!

  • thumbs up, great post!
    .-= Allena´s last blog ..Story of a Successful Pitch =-.

    • Anne

      Thanks Allena…

  • I get very sad. It’s inevitable. I also work as an editor, and I get annoyed by writers telling me off when I’ve asked for changes in the most polite way. So I try to be polite and kind to editors, especially now.

    This past week, I was turned down for a job after really thinking I’d get it. I sent a polite follow-up to the rejecting person. This week, they offered me a different job that they thought was better for me…and it’s a great one. I learned that putting aside my ego and hurt feelings and responding as professionally as I possibly could…paid off.
    .-= Robin ´s last blog ..Odd and Wacky News: Biodegradable Litter Not OK in UK =-.

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