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How to Handle Criticism of Your Writing

handle criticismComplaints about your writing can be one of the toughest things in the world. Learning to handle criticism well, let alone with any grace and elan, takes some thought, confidence and even planning.

If someone says something awful, or otherwise indicates they don’t like what you’ve written, the first thing to do is take a deep breath or two and ground yourself. Know that every writer – yes every single writer who dares to put themselves out there to readers will have to handle criticism from time to time. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing for a popular blog or magazine and your work is seen by thousands, or you share the poem you just wrote with a loved one, you open yourself to others in a way few people do. Some of your readers are apt to tell you, one way or another, they think you’ve done a poor job.

It may help to remember that there has never been a piece of writing that couldn’t be improved. Okay, I have no idea how to prove that sentiment but I firmly believe it.

Consider the source

Discouraging remarks about your writing are likely to come from two general sources:

The clients and/or editors you submit your writing to for pay or credit, and, family, friends and casual readers. While family and friends my cause the most emotional pain, it’s generally your clients and/or editors that you need to take seriously.

For the most part, professional editors are making suggestions or changing your writing so you look good! It’s not true in every case, but it is in most. Real editors not only know the rules of spelling and grammar, they also know what works in reader’s minds. It’s almost magic.

On the other hand, your spouse, best friend or Aunt Suzie isn’t really in a position offer much more than an opinion. You can simply thank these people for sharing and move on. Or, if they are a source of constant criticism, ask them to stop and enforce that.

Listen closely

When an editor or client is making negative comments about something you’ve written, you’ve got to listen carefully if you want keep working for them. Good editors will help you improve your writing so it communicates well to the audience they serve. You can learn a lot about writing from editors and when you handle criticism from an editor politely and take at least most of your advice, you’re building a relationship with someone who can help your career in the future. Good editors love working with writers who are willing to be edited.

When a client wants changes, things can get murky. As you may have already discovered, clients often don’t know much about writing and can screw up your efforts. Often you can gently point out your reasoning and if you do so gracefully the client may come to see your point of view. An acceptable compromise might be reached, or you may have to decide if this is a battle you’re willing to fight and lose.

I was once told by an editor that it’s the sign of a mature writer when they are able to accept good editing. I’d add to that, not all editing is great and when it isn’t, it’s okay to push back. Just know what you’re risking.

Got an editing story you’d like to tell us in comments?

Write well and often,


{ 4 comments… add one }
  • I have to admit that I don’t take criticism all that well, especially if the person criticizing it has never written anything on their own. I understand if you’re getting paid for something and those editing it want some changes as it pertains to their site, but I see that as a totally different thing.

    Still, there are other times when I’ve heard the criticism of something, let it bother me for some small bit of time, and then moved on with life. When it’s all said and done, it’s about creating, not sitting around wallowing over someone not liking your work. Look what JK Rowling did with the criticism she took! 🙂
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted..30 Mistakes You’re Making With Your BlogMy Profile

    • Mitch… not sure how I missed this… I identify for sure. And thanks for the link to your 30 Mistakes…

  • David Hunter

    I think that this is a helpful article about helping to deal with one of the most difficult situations for any creative artist. I can see how it is necessary to note comments from editors if you want to get published, but as you say the editing is not always ideal.
    A lot of comments from other creative artists can just be intended to wound, which is hard especially at the beginning of your creative endeavors: typically these tend to be that you may as well pack up as you are obviously lacking in talent and going nowhere. Nobody can ever be certain whether they have ability in the creative arts and people who make comments like this are often the least confident about their own abilities and/or resentful that nobody has recognised their own”obvious” ability. Doing anything creative, I think, means having to “travel hopefully”, probably on a long path and needing to cultivate a fairly thick skin as regards nay-sayers – arts organisations tend to be full of them!

    • “Travel hopefully” is a lovely phrase and does describe the creative path. Thanks.

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