Complaints 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.
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,