Deal With Criticism Like A Pro: 7 Strategies For Writers

    how to deal with criticism

    When was the last time you had to deal with criticism?

    If you’ve worked with an editor, you’ll know how difficult it can be to deal with criticism.

    Working hard on an article only to get it back covered in red ink or with a request for a major rewrite isn’t a pleasant experience.

    But here’s the thing:

    It happens to every writer, and it’s part of the job.

    Failure and rejection are pit-stops along your journey to becoming a better writer.

    I know this from personal experience.

    My Big Mistake

    Several years ago, I worked as a freelance journalist for an Irish technology magazine.

    My editor wanted me to write a 3000-word feature about the then new Digital Audio Broadcast radio (DAB), a relatively technical topic.

    I interviewed several radio experts, asking what DAB meant for the general Irish radio listener.

    The interviews went well, so I included them almost ‘as is’ in my article.

    I was confident I knew what I was doing, but the truth is that the article wasn’t particularly good. I didn’t work hard enough to make it easy to understand for readers who were not technically minded.

    I know this (now), because my editor asked me to rework most of the piece. 

    He said, “The raw version of your article came across as three interviews meshed together, and was confusing. Be careful to fully define your subject matter before diving into expert opinion…as this can be off-putting and makes you seem lazy.”

    At the time, I was annoyed about having to put in the extra work, and felt like my editor had it in for me personally.

    Who’s he to criticise my hard work?, I thought.

    Now, I know this was a mistake.

    Why Your Editor is Your Ally

    New writers often struggle with negative feedback from an editor.

    When you send what you think is a finished article, having to do more research, or rewrite the article feels like a frustrating step backwards.

    But it’s important to remember one truth: Your editor wants you to write something their readers will love.

    I’m sure that’s what you want too. 

    So when your editor asks for more research or a rewrite, they have both your and their readers’ best interests at heart.

    That said, frank editorial feedback can still be hard to take.

    Here are 6 strategies to help you deal with criticism like a pro:

    1. Separate Yourself from Your Work

    When a plumber fits a toilet, they don’t view the toilet as an extension of themselves.

    When a farmer milks a cow, they don’t throw a temper tantrum if someone complains about the milk being sour.

    Your writing isn’t any different.

    When an editor criticizes your work, it’s not personal.

    Their criticism is not a judgment on whether or not you are a good or  hardworking person.

    Get some distance from your work and you’ll be able to evaluate your editor’s advice on its merits alone.

    In my case, I needed to listen to my editor. He knew better than I what would work for his readers; it was his job.

    I should have separated myself from my work, and listened to him.

    2. Have More than One Writing Project On the Go

    You may love them all at first, but not all your articles or stories will succeed.

    Sometimes, it can take months to write something your editor likes; on other occasions, it may only take a few hours.

    Writing is curious like that.

    But if you have more than one writing project on the go at a time, it doesn’t matter as much if one of your articles needs significant reworking, or even if it flops.

    Because you haven’t invested all your creative energy in a single writing project, you’re less likely to feel like a failure when you are criticized.

    The best part?

    You can always work on another of your articles until you feel more encouraged about fixing the piece in question.

    3. Get Beta Readers

    Some writers feel their editors are neither approachable nor forgiving, which makes them afraid to send in their work.

    If you’re worried about how your editor is going to receive your work, show it first to someone whose opinion you trust. Ask them if they think the article works, if there are any obvious mistakes you’ve missed, and what you can do to make it more readable.

    This person could be a colleague who is more experienced than you or an eagle-eyed family member who is great at catching typos.

    Writers like Joanna Penn even ask trusted members of their email list to review their work before it’s published.

    These beta readers can provide you with frank and free feedback you can use to improve your writing before sending it to your editor.

    4. Trust Yourself

    If you’re going to become a better writer, you need to have confidence in your ideas and your work.

    No, I’m not suggesting you confront your editor with ‘publish my work as is or else.’

    Instead, have the courage of your convictions.

    If you disagree with editorial suggestions, make a case for why you wrote things one way and not the other.

    Explain calmly how your arguments, points or ideas make the piece in question stronger.

    Your editor may disagree, but sometimes they use back and forth conversations to see what a writer is made of, and to test if their ideas hold up before they are exposed to the world.

    If your editor points out an obvious mistake, correct it, but don’t let this become a reason for compromising on your entire work.

    After all, you’re a professional.

    5. Learn from Your Mistakes

    When I was a freelance journalist, I didn’t write down the lessons I learned from my editors.

    This was one of my biggest mistakes because I ended up having the same ‘frank conversations’ with several different editors over the years i.e. I repeated my mistakes.

    Today, I keep notes of everything I learn about writing. I include positive and negative feedback about my work. I also write about the process of writing the piece in question.

    This only takes a few minutes each week, but helps me internalise what I learnt from my editors.

    Later on, if I’m writing something similar, I can re-read these lessons and avoid repeating my mistakes.

    6. Accept It and Move On

    So your work sucked.

    So your book wasn’t any good.

    So nobody like your article.

    Move on.

    I don’t mean to be harsh.

    If you’re anything like me or the writers I’ve met, you’ll have far more failures to your name and unpublished disasters on your computer than successes.

    Instead of wallowing in self-defeat, salvage what you can, and use the experience as a lesson to fail forward.

    Wondering if you’ve got what it takes, blaming your editor, and suffering from a martyr complex won’t help you write a better article next time.

    It certainly didn’t help me.

    This Is Your Chance 

    Today, I don’t write about technology because I’m more passionate about writing, creativity and great stories.

    However, because of my past mistakes, I try to see editorial feedback as a valuable tool I can use to improve my work.

    When an editor asks for many edits and rewrites, think of it as a chance to improve your craft and learn from a more experienced person.

    All you have to do it is to act on the advice.

    How do you deal with criticism of your writing? Let me know in the comments.

    And if you liked this post, please share it on social media.

    About the author

      Bryan Collins

      Bryan Collins helps writers become authors. This post is based on his new book The Art of Writing a Non-Fiction Book. Get his 101 Writing Prompts for free and kickstart your writing today.

    • eltib says:

      I really enjoyed the article. My writing improved drastically when I started showing what I wrote to others. While I did not like the criticism at first, but understood that to improve as a writer I needed to understand what I was doing wrong and improve that aspect of my writing.تنظيف كنب بالرياض

    • LouisGrace says:

      You have written very nicely about the interesting facts. It thoroughly enchants the readers and grab our attention through out the post. Really worth to read and expect many more interesting posts!

    • Thanks for sharing these tips, Bryan! It’s not easy dealing with criticism. In all my years of blogging and copy writing, I still feel a pang of depression when my works get rejected. But I just keep in mind that it has nothing to do with me personally. Editors who have time to spare work with me to improve my style and tone so I may improve. At the end of the day, remaining professional no matter what is our real challenge.

    • Enzo says:

      Hello,
      Its very insightful article I really liked it.We should be very careful whenever someone critisizes us and give its answer accordingly .If we react to criticism without even understanding the point then it will surely get us into some other point of criticism.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Bryan,
      Great advice – particularly around separating yourself from your work and accepting and moving on. I’ve been a freelancer for over 7 years now, and it was one of the earliest lessons I had to learn. You can’t take it personally or it will cripple you and your ability to move on to get more paying work.

      I like the idea of keeping a note of what you’ve learned too – might implement this one myself. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Bryan. I especially like the idea of keeping a note of what you learn about the process. I’m used to keeping a log book in my day to day working life, and intend to start another now for my writing.

    • Linda says:

      Great post, thank you, I needed this.
      I know this is not related to writing, but I want to share this, because its related to dealing with criticism:
      I once had a stream of bad comments on a video (of a song I wrote) I shared over YouTube and I’m still struggling to get over it. Everything seemed fine, shares were good, views over 3000 in a month and then all of a sudden negative comments started flowing in….in the end I deleted my video and till today (even though I know its good for business), I don’t touch YouTube.
      Although I know my video didn’t suck, in the end those negative comments affected my entire online business.
      What I’ve learned from that experience. When you know what your sharing is good and good quality do this:
      1) When a stream of bad comments starts flowing in, shrug your shoulders and let it roll off your back – chances are it was someone who was jealous and asked all their social media friends to add a negative comment (this came out after I deleted the video)
      2) Stand strong and ride it out – actually these people are helping you, because they are increasing your social shares and visibility.
      3) Trust your true friends and family, if they say its good (and they are honest friends) – chances are that it is good.
      5) Don’t take anything personally – use what you think is good advice and let the rest go. (like you mentioned in #1)
      Moral of the story: your advice here can be added to any type of media.

    • These are great tips even for people who aren’t writers. Criticism can be hard to swallow but usually gets easier with practice. If the criticism is meant constructively it can even be a gift to make one better.

    • Hi Bryan,

      Ah yes, Criticism! It sometimes isn’t what it seems. You have to see beyond what’s being fed back to you to get to the real purpose. It’s not always positive but that’s okay. It’s not always constructive or useful and that’s not okay.

      I’ve had one or two people tell me that my blog isn’t geared up for this or that social media sharing platform. And they hint (often strongly) that my blog is doomed because I haven’t added these social sharing buttons. If my blog is doomed, it’s not because I’ve not added Pinterest or Periscope to my social sharing buttons.

      Joanna Penn’s way of including trusted email list members is a good tactic. It needs careful thought to make sure these members know what end result you’re after. I realise it can help social sharing though.

      It all comes down to being prepared to put in the hours. And wanting to learn continuously. And yes, being willing to act on the constructive and useful advice.

      -Tom

    • veroby says:

      Be smart about the way you ask for feedback and you’ll quickly realize you can’t live or learn without it علاج الادمان

    • Ohita Afeisume says:

      Writing down the lessons one learns is a new one for me. Thanks.

      • Hi Ohita,
        I put my lessons in Evernote and re-read them from time to time. I find this way I’m less likely to forget.

    • Dr. Bryan says:

      I really enjoyed the article. My writing improved drastically when I started showing what I wrote to others. While I did not like the criticism at first, but understood that to improve as a writer I needed to understand what I was doing wrong and improve that aspect of my writing.

      Dr. Bryan

      • Showing your work can be tough at first, but it’s a good habit to get into (and one reason why I blog!). Plus, you will invariably have a moment where someone reads your work and then makes a comment or suggestion that you never considered.

      • Showing your work is great way to improve as a writer. I recommend reading the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. There’s lots of practical tips in there.

    • Thank you for urging us to lower our defenses and work strategically in this area!

      I’m coming to trust Beta Readers more and more, and to trust myself less. There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance, and for writers, an inherent distrust in our ability to discern quality in our own work is the difference-maker.

      • Lots of successful authors have beta or first readers for their works. It’s definitely something I’d like do try more. I hope it works for you.

    • Varun says:

      Every strategy mentioned here is unique and works for sure.thanks for sharing

    • Great post as always Collins,
      And i agreed with all your points. Writing is really not an easy task indeed especially when you’re not yet used to it and that is when you will become very angry if you’re asked to make some corrections on the work you thought that you’ve putting in your very best into.

      However, accepting the criticism is always the best thing to do because it will also make you to learn along the line so that if you’re writing for the same editor next time, you already know what he expects.

      But if you ended up messing everything up with anger, you will miss that opportunity.

      • Hi Theodore,
        Nice to (virtually) see you again!

        I agree that writing isn’t always easy.

        Learning to accepting criticism is one step on the journey for most writers. It’s also a valuable one because it’s a type of education.

      • Good to see you again Theodore (virtually anyway 🙂 ) I agree with your point that criticism is an opportunity to grow as a writer. We just have to be brave enough to take it!

    • Hey Bryan, thanks for the great blog post.
      I really liked all your strategies to deal with criticism.

      I especially liked the point – “Learn from Your Mistakes”. It sounds generic. But it’s damn important. Learning from own mistakes, and also from mistakes peers make sounds too good to me. Taking a note of those. Wow. That’s a great way to better ourselves.

      At the time, we are criticized, the only thing we should do is accept. Because we are humans. One should learn what they gotta learn from the criticism and move on. Don’t brood over it. Don’t let the criticism, rule over you.

      Great points.
      Cheers.

      • Hi Akshay,

        Criticism is help and effective if it comes from the right person and if it includes practical suggestions that you can use to improve your work. We all mistakes, and we all have a chance to learn from them.

      • “Don’t brood. Don’t let criticism rule over you” That’s awesome advice Akshay. Sometimes it just makes sense to separate emotion from writing and that time normally comes after the early drafts.

    • arjun says:

      Thanks ! a lot for the information! . I liked all of your 6 strategies

    • Deborah says:

      Good tips. I aspire to become an editor, but I also want to write at least one book. I have an editor who has actually offered her services for indie publication, so I am fully expecting speed bumps. I have improved my writing over the past year, but it can still be a struggle to remain objective, a service which editors and beta readers provide. Great article.

    • Zed Amadeo says:

      Thanks for this helpful article! A related piece of advice to Tip #2 is to have multiple places to submit a piece. Rejection from a particular contest or magazine can be a lot easier to handle if you know that you have other options that might be a good fit for your writing.

      • Great idea Zed.

        Submitting to lots of places is great because then you don’t worry so much if you get one rejection letter. Plus it gets you into the habit of shipping.

    • Great article! I gathered new info from it that will help me not take things so personally. With all the no thank you’s for my book from publisher, I was boistered up by the one who said I love your book! Thank goodness.

      • Good to hear you liked the tips. Writing is personal, except when it isn’t (i.e. when it’s time to ship).

    • Virginia says:

      It’s very true that they aren’t ‘picking on you’ with the feedback. It is an editors responsibility to get the ‘best product’ out there as they are judged on that. God idea to keep the tips: good and otherwise, to help you make your writing better.

      • I agree. A finished article is sometimes like a product that you have to release or let go. At least that way you can move on. I’m glad you liked the tips.

    • Thanks a lot for the information! These stories of writers are really inspirational for me, as I have been a writer sense I was a young child. However, I’ve always been my own worst critic therefore, I have allowed my passion of writing to seep away as I constantly remind myself of how afraid I am to publish. As a result, of taking many communications as well as college writing classes, and reading these articles, I am ready to take the leap of faith….

      Thank you again,

      best wishes

      • Hi Maureen,
        Writers are often their own worst critics, which is why if often helps and makes sense to get feedback from an editor. At least that way you can be more logical about your work once it’s done.

    • Hi Yenna,
      Thanks! It’s always a pleasure to write for Write To Done.

    • Yenna Yi says:

      I appreciate your article.

    • Hey Brian

      Thank you for another insightful post!

      A year ago, I cussed (to myself) at a client who dared to believe that this NYT Bestselling author – aka moi 😛 – didn’t befit his brand 😉

      I am getting better at handling feedback.

      But it still hurts to receive it – and I suppose it always will 😛 heheheheh

      Hopefully, I am committed enough towards my career.Hopefully, a few not-so-glowing feedbacks will not deter me from becoming a reputable writer….

      Thanks again
      Kitto

      • Hi Krithika,
        I hope all is well with you.

        Feedback hurts it’s true, but once you get into the habit of getting feedback it will just become part of the creative process. Plus the hurt invariably fades when your work is done 🙂


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