How to Recover from Criticism (And Eliminate it!)

recover from criticism

Have you ever felt the need to voice a harsh opinion about someone’s writing or other creative work—even though your input wasn’t asked for?

And did you ever deliver such criticism with facetiousness, sarcasm, or worse, outright malice?

Be honest.

Don’t worry, no one will know.

If yes, the next question is very important.


Because it was the right thing to do? Because certain standards must be met and maintained?

Or maybe it was because it made you feel better?

Or, and we might be getting a lot closer here, it was impulsive and you don’t really know why.

If you’ve ever felt the compulsion to correct someone’s typo when your input was not requested, yet you went the extra mile and delivered said criticism in the harshest way you could, then trust me when I say that it never was about the other person’s mistake.

Destructive criticism is NEVER about anyone but the giver.

The reality is that when we feel an instinctive, unyielding need to strongly criticize someone else, it’s not about them. Such an intense compulsion comes from within ourselves. It’s all too often a sign of a simmering anger we have about our own flaws, our own mistakes, and our own imperfection.

There is no critic in the world harder on you than yourself.

You know it’s true.

This post might not be about you, but if you’ve ever felt the need to criticize someone else for an error that is irrelevant in the great scheme of things, there is something deeper at work, something far more sinister and hurtful.

It’s your internal naysayer lashing out. It’s really talking about you and your work.

Now here’s the clincher, your internal naysayer is a liar. It’s never honest. It wants you to feel unqualified and worthless, unworthy and not good enough.

It’s bullshitting you.

You are worthy.

There is a great artist–a great writer–within you.

Don’t let your internal critic convince you otherwise.

Writer’s Doubt is never fair. It will try to fool you, mask its criticism, and try to convince you that it’s all about someone else—anyone else—but ultimate its trickery will affect only you. (Although, be aware that someone else’s feelings could get hurt in the crossfire.)

Don’t let it trick you. Put it in its place.

Here are 3 tips on how to turn the tables on your internal naysayer and strengthen your confidence in your own work:

1. Use a compliment.

The next time you spot an error in someone’s writing and feel a devious impulse to let that person know how much of an idiot they are, turn the tables on your naysayer and send a compliment instead.

Find something interesting about their writing and send an encouraging note.

Remember, your internal critic is really attacking you, so your note is as much for you as it is for the writer you’re sending it to.

2. Use a positive affirmation.

Repeat after me: “I am a writer. I create work that matters. I matter.”

Whenever you feel the need to criticize someone else’s work for no other reason than just to do it, say with authority: “I am a writer. I create work that matters. I matter.”

Repeat it as often as you need to, until the compulsion to destructively criticize someone is gone.

I also recommend posting this statement somewhere you can read it regularly, perhaps on a post-it next to your PC monitor.

3. Keep a good attitude.

Adopt a ‘Be Graceful and Be Kind’ attitude.

We’re hard enough as it is on ourselves; there’s no reason to be hard on others too.

Of course, people want to know when they’ve made an error so they can correct it and learn from their mistake, but there’s a graceful and kind way to do it, and a hurtful way to do it. You know the difference, because you know how it feels.

Your naysayer will recoil and hide from grace and kindness, allowing you the freedom to flourish as a writer and as a person, and perhaps your generous feedback and compliments will help fellow writers do the same.

One more thing, whenever you’re on the receiving end of criticism that wasn’t requested and it’s obviously just a poke at you for your mistake, know that it’s not about you.

The person who gave it is dealing with powerful internal demons and he or she just lost a major battle. Getting upset or arguing will only serve to upset you even more and embolden that person’s internal naysayer.

I’ve found sending a silent good thought—akin to a prayer— to that person removes any animosity and hurt I might be feeling. And hopefully, it helps them too.

You are a writer. Yes, you are.

You create work that matters. You matter. Yes, you do.

Have you ever given hurtful criticism that you later regretted? Share with us in the comments how it made you feel. How would you give that criticism now? If you like, share an example of this as well.

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About the author: 

This guest post is by Bryan Hutchinson, founder of WritetoDone’s award-winning blog Positive Writer, and author of the book, Writer’s Doubt: The #1 Enemy Of Writing (And What You Can Do About It).

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28 thoughts on “How to Recover from Criticism (And Eliminate it!)”

  • amy says:

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  • Larryn Griffith says:

    Thank you, Mary, for this insightful piece. You’re spot on when it comes to why we react the way we do – and it’s not only with writing. People react to other people and situations based on past experiences, which have often been hurtful to them. I guess it’s instinctual to try and protect ourselves. With this knowledge, we can circumvent the desire to strike out and focus on the positive and encouraging…for ourselves and others.

  • David Jensen says:

    Great post, Bryan! I recently received criticism from a prospective client. I was berating myself pretty hard. Then I reviewed my article and had another editor read it as well. Neither of us saw any evidence of what the “critic” pointed out. She only had to say that she didn’t want to use the piece, instead of attacking it with some lame issues that obviously weren’t true. Your post helps me take that for what it’s worth and move on. Thanks!

  • Chris P says:

    I agree with Bryan… right along the line, apart from the suggestion that writers criticise harshly because they doubt their own writing skills. Some may do this, but others are just dismayed at what, in these days of self and vanity publishing, actually gets out there. (I’m referring to writing that has been put out on sale – or offered free – to the general reading public. Not works in progress offered for criticism.)

    While it’s never good form to slag off someone’s work by just describing it as rubbish or worthless, or by insulting the author, criticism that’s fair, honest, and constructive should be welcomed. It’s hard enough to get, after all.
    A year ago, after I first got a Kindle because work of my own and by friends had been published as e-books, I read a novel of the same genre as my own stuff. It had been offered free for short period.
    I reviewed it on Amazon at great length because I felt it had promise, yet was quite possibly the worst edited book I’d ever seen.
    I like to think my criticism was fair… I was careful not to be rude, and to be positive where the book deserved it. I described it as: ‘a great novel in there somewhere, and it’s screaming to get out’. I stand by that, but make your own mind up about whether my criticism was fair.

    • Good points, Chris. I’m more concerned in this article about those who are being mean for the sake of being mean and not necessarily offering helpful advice. On a communication level, if one really wants to be heard, being brutal or unkind isn’t going to allow for any growth, much less to be heard and considered. The criticism will, in all likelihood, be disqualified and thus ignored. And who wants to be ignored?

      Bryan Hutchinson recently posted..9 Reasons All Writers Are Weird (And Damn Proud Of It!)My Profile

  • Neil says:

    Absolutely spot on! I agree with all the points you mention, and there’s one more, I feel – When I impart criticism to any piece of writing, there’s an instinct to tell that author, “Hey, I learned how to do this right. Now, it’s your turn. You better learn it too.” Maybe there’s some kind of resentment there too, because I couldn’t get away with that, so how would I allow this writer to? Your article helps me do a rethink on this attitude.
    Neil recently posted..Deliver Us From Evil (Part 5 of 5)My Profile

  • This article on giving and receiving criticism with right spirit; was said in the biblical verse: ‘take the beam from one’s own eye before removing the splinter from your ‘brother’s’ (other human person)

    My understanding ‘now’ of this verse; people will measure others by the type of life they are living.

    It is indeed true that people who have been wounded (physically, emotionally, or mentally) are not looking with same lens as one who has known authentic love and authentic goodness. The wounds that come upon others; are not always self-inflicted. They are the wounds (the cross) of living in an imperfect ‘natural’ world…WHOLLY. Wholly part of the material and natural world and not in any way knowing what GO(O)D is about. Or …sometimes they knew; but strayed from that truth; reasons are myriad and varied. (if a child lives within an angry home life, or angry neighborhood…where people are living solely on the ‘natural level’ … the odds are good that the results will be an angry and frustrated adult (ignorant of how to receive goodness to themselves; they try to find reason for their ill feelings by pointing (finger wagging) blame at … the easiest target (aka scapegoat) … The problem is never in themselves… UNCONSCIOUSLY; they will
    ‘pick fights’ (physical or emotional quarreling) IF they can get ‘the goody goody’ happy spirit to
    ATTACK THEM… oddly enough; THEY WIN! They are devious in how they anger others; slick with the words, charmers with a smile…BUT they intimidate this other peaceful one to raise a voice and then ‘ta-daaaaah’ REASON found in their mind ‘he/she hates me’ and ’employer;
    I did nothing wrong’ (shine halo) LOOK how this one picks on me. (it is passive aggression)
    It is worldly. It is done in families and workplaces. It is SLICK and COOL…emotion riling (they hope) Psychological transference is another technical name…or BULLYING at the simple way of saying it.

    So why does this bad stuff happen to good people?

    God allows us these crosses in life. We learn FAITH in God best being in but not part of that material natural world. When we adhere to FAITH in the one who redeemed us and is always part of our being (if we believe it fully) We can hold the tongue, look objectively at a situation for truth, is the problem mine or this other one’s. If mine; THE SPIRIT will show that to me, and I ‘can change’ if not my issue…I will by THE SPIRIT know that also; and can ignore the tormentor,
    or leave the tormentor, or maybe even CHANGE the entire situation; with God’s help. Bad comes to us. Life isn’t a bed a roses; we live in a world broken by SIN. (the more we condone sin in the world and thus others; the more we live in a hostile angry world; the more we make laws that support objective good actions; the more THE BAD is pushed back) So…

    If we experienced a bad situation yesterday but remained faithful the THE LIFE part of our being and stayed at peace, was reasonable, reflected on the human words in silence rather than arguing back…HE (God) raised us UP …another notch closer to HEAVEN…someday. We of faith are better today for having lived his meek, humble, obedient to Go(o)d presence; while the other stays angry, hostile, and hard of heart. (we should pray for them; to be changed in how they see and how they hear) We won’t change them; but we can pray for them to be changed.

    All criticism; constructive or not constructive …serves the good TO BE BETTER.

    To those we see angry by their own wounds they can’t shake off: pity them for … ‘BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD go I’

  • Great post. I can’t say that I have ever given bad feedback, but I was on the receiving end of some. It made me doubt my own story and direction. You are so right about it being all about the other person (maybe they are jealous that you are doing what they wish to do?).

    Thanks for another great post!

  • Molly Seay says:

    I recall that a year ago I was at this writer’s group, and this woman read a few pages of her story. It was really really bad. Terrible, and I told her this. I said her story was the worst thing I had ever heard. That she had no concept of world building ect ect. And I said this in front of say twenty people. Why did I do this? Well, I had spent four years on a book with potential, because all stories have potential, and no one had told me the truth. Finally I met some honest people who tore my story apart, and after I cried and talked myself out of giving up (daily) I wrote something I could be proud of. After hearing the hard truth I wrote a book that made a self-described manly man decide that he was missing out by not reading women’s fiction.
    It wasn’t my intention to hurt that woman, but I wasn’t going to pretend for her feelings. Really, thank God for the honest people. And the truth is that getting back up from crushing criticism only makes one better. I’m not saying that all people are trying to help, but the haters are obvious. I’m making the point that sometimes, many times, we do need people to be hard on us. Sometimes we need to be judged.
    Anyway, good article.

  • Laszlo Anthony Voros says:

    Very good advise. I had my brother read four pages of my work, but he read it out loud as a goof.
    Fortunately my sister who has been published reads my stuff and gives me positive advise and never tells me I’m a complete dumbass or something to that effect.
    I am a writer and what I write matters. I matter!

  • Ayobami Paul says:

    Thanks for this post Bryan. I think I was a bit stingy with compliments and a hard critic not even to others alone but myself in particular. The best compliment I used to give was “OK!”.
    A friend once requested me to visit her site and check if something needed to be fixed. Though she asked for my sincere opinion but I went too far in criticizing her. She thanked me but I knew she was sad. That my wicked assessment nearly ruined our friendship. Since then I have learned to be a constructive critic rather than a destructive one. I have improved with others but still struggling to appreciate my own works.

  • Beth says:

    Hi Bryan and Mary and all writers,
    Thank you for this post. I would like to share with you all some good news. My first book, a little novella I entered into the Write To Done, competition last year, titled Laurel’s Loft, has finally made a sale on KDP.
    This novella came under such heavy fire from those around me. I was told it was no good and too descriptive. I believed those lies and my creative muse took quite a knock. But I went ahead, on the 25 August 2015 and put it onto Amazon and KDP, pushed publish and away it went. I was super excited to see it online.
    But my joy soon faded and unhappiness crept in like a slow fog to cloud my own ability to write.Writer’s doubt, became my nemesis. By December, still no sales. Who would buy such a book for 99c? Were all those people right? Was my novella, my first attempt at becoming a published author to descriptive. Was it no good for the book market? Am I such a failure at even writing the most simplest of sentences and putting them into a book format?
    I almost gave up writing because I felt crushed by the weight of knowing no one wanted my little master piece that I had poured my heart and soul into. It may not be my best but then I was still on the pathway to learning the craft of writing.
    And yes, writer’s doubt and harsh criticism is likened unto a tiny jail cell, where you lock yourself away in solitary confinement and want to throw away the key, yet somehow deep down inside, we hang onto that key, never letting it go, never knowing if we will ever make it into the world of successful publishers. We cry, we mope and become depressed, yet a small part of us wants to, needs to, keep on trying, even if we write shitty first drafts and know it all to well. Hey, no human is perfect!
    Many times I wanted to pull my novella from their digital platforms but now I’m happy I didn’t.
    Because out of the blue, one lady in London, whom I don’t even know, bought a copy yesterday. And in her email to me this morning, she said she loves the way I write. I was expressive and descriptive. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for a writer, I have no idea. I just know thereafter, I was able to rub some people’s noses in their own harsh criticism. Because……I AM A WRITER AND WHAT I WRITE MATTERS!
    The lady in London asked me to set up an authors page on facebook. I have no idea how to do that. If anyone has any ideas feedback would be most welcome. Thank you.

  • Pat W. Kirk says:

    Years ago a reviewer refused to review my book because of “bad editing.” At the time I thought she was a terrible person. How dare she? I thanked her and ignored her advice. Now, years later as I work on a new book, I look back at that book and realize she was right and refusing the book was kind. Sometimes cruel is just truth. I think David Jensen has the right idea. Get a second opinion.
    Pat W. Kirk recently posted..Mary Magdalene: Misjudged for CenturiesMy Profile

    • Vicheth Heng says:

      That is the issue i have been around with. I have started writing my own blog sharing what i have learned and think about many issues. However, there are many negative comments seen on many of my posts. By the way, this helps, and I wish i saw even earlier. Thanks for your writing.

  • The points shown in this really worked out for me. This post highlights the bitter truth that the defects lies within us. Destructive criticism may be relieving to you but can derogate prestige, reputation and self-esteem of other. Moral goes – So think twice before you utter a word.

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  • Trish says:

    I have a friend who doesnt know her tone of voice it seems. Whenever I tell her, wow that one hurt, she genuinely has no idea why.

    So, I’ve started to tell myself that when she says this, she really means that…
    For the most part it works. (seeing posts like these do bring up my spirits after a brutal editing)

    Though I wont let her get away with “this is so bad i wont even edit it” anymore. That’s not even an option. If she thinks it’s that rotten, she HAS to give me an outline to work with in order to restructure what the “mess” was.

    • Hi Trish,

      Hmmm I think it might be a good idea to get additional feedback from a 3rd party who is not so closely involved with you and your work. Sometimes it’s good to get a second opinion from ‘fresh’ eyes and also be sure you’re asking the right person, who is open to your story and ideas. Too often we ask people who just don’t like what we are writing about and therefore anything about it is never any good.

      Good luck!

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