How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer

 

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One of perhaps the hardest things for writers to overcome is the fear of facing criticism.  

I hate to tell you, but it is inevitable.  Eventually, someone will not like your work.  It will hurt, but you want to know a secret?

Criticism is what makes you a better writer.

I have been fairly lucky when it comes to people reviewing my work, but there have been times where someone tells me they didn’t like a particular scene or that they think my work is too “young.” (I’m nineteen and published my first book, for better or worse, as fifteen.  I heard this OFTEN when I first started out.)

Now, I know that it doesn’t seem like that sort of comment should have bothered me, but at the time, it really hurt.  I was lucky enough to receive mostly favorable reviews, but it didn’t matter.  One negative comment would have annoyed me no matter how many five stars I received.

Looking back, it all seems a little silly, but I know every writer hits a point like this when one negative piece of feedback just seems to be ripping your heart open.  Your book is your baby.  You don’t want to hear how you or it failed.

Negative feedback isn’t a sign of failure if you use the information to make your future writing better. Actually, you should LOOK for the critics.  Without criticism, how do you expect to find the weak points in your writing and make it better?

However, I believe there are three different types of criticism, and only one of them is the healthy kind that builds you up as a writer.  The other two you need to ignore because they will only tear you down.

 

  1. Spammy Criticism:

As my dad said once to me, this kind of criticism comes from keyboard bullies.  They are the ones that post in the comment section of blogs not with helpful information, but rather a bunch of nonsense that angers more people than it helps.  This kind of criticism exists to annoy you.  It’s rarely true and is just as the name I gave it suggests: spam.  Flat out ignore it.

2. Self-Criticism

Stepping back and questioning the integrity and quality of your writing is a healthy practice.  You are your best critic, but likewise your worst.  It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between taking a good look at your writing and judging yourself on things that don’t matter.  Self-criticism can quickly morph into self-doubt, and while it’s normal to have a little self-doubt, it’s not normal to get yourself in a panic over things that are out of your control.  I am quite familiar with the fine line between the two, and even after two self-published novels and a third one soon to come I still have to evaluate almost every day whether I’m dealing with self-criticism or it’s deadly twin, self-doubt.

3. Constructive Criticism 

You might remember this term from when you wrote papers in school and your teacher scribbled “helpful” revision comments in the margins before giving it back to you.  Then, if you were at all like me, you remember those comments as a pain and another long night of homework.

I hate to tell you, you still need constructive criticism now.  Occasionally having an unbiased person review your work and give useful feedback is important for a writer.  This is healthy and the only kind of criticism you really need to focus on.

 

So, next time you receive feedback, remember that whoever said it is actually helping you.  Don’t go after them and demand to know how they could say something bad about your work.  Instead, ask them to explain what they meant and even see if they have anything else to say to help you improve your work.

 

Wow.  As I read back down through this post, I’m starting to remind myself of one of my previous teachers.  That teacher used to preach about constructive criticism, but I always hated it.  Funny how viewpoints change.

Before I get weirded out by that thought, I’m going to leave you with this post.

As always, hope this helps!  Feel free to leave a comment or question below.

 

What Anxiety Taught Me About Myself

 

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Thank God 2016 is over.

As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t published a post in 8 months.  I was supposed to publish a book, City of Deception, in July, but it never came out.  I planned to go to university and study history, my second favorite subject only surpassed by writing.  I planned to get my own apartment within the next eighteen months.

But life is a tricky thing, and the last year and a half have been some of the most difficult and stressful months for my family and me.  If something could go wrong, it did or tried to.

I learned how crippling anxiety can be, and spent most of the summer holed up at home recovering from a year that kept getting worse.  It taught me I’m not as strong and invincible as I think.

So, here’s what happened:

I’m nineteen and finished my freshman year at University.  Last fall, about the time I started this blog, I packed up my belongings and moved ten minutes from home into the dorm with one of my best friends as my roommate.  For the first few months, I adjusted to college life, learning that eating pancakes at midnight is normal and studying your butt off ten minutes before your final exam is protocol.  Despite a few mishaps and arguments on my hall, I succeded at being on the Deans list.

But then about January, something happened.

I started getting more than a few butterflies in my stomach when I had to go to social functions (I’m an introvert at heart, but this was extreme).  I struggled to maintain eye contact with people during conversations and trivial things like phone calls to meeting people in the cafeteria for dinner sent me off to my room trembling.

By March, I pretty much spent most of my time in my room with Netflix, chocolate, and impending due dates.  I couldn’t write, something that calmed me down, because my characters reflected my anxiety making me more worried.  It sucked.

Then in April, the panic attacks came.  I’d go to class, do my assignments (because I’m a perfectionist and hate when things try to stop me or slow me down) and spend a lot of time sitting on my bed reading crappy vampire novels just to escape the moment.  Just having to pass people in the hall would all but send me into panic mode.  The anxiety never stopped.

I chose to take a gap year after meeting with a professor one day and all but crying in his office because I physically couldn’t make myself do a presentation for their class.  I would have vomited had I tried to do the presentation.

The point of this post is if you feel I’ve been ignoring you all, I haven’t.  I’ve been struggling, but now am back.  Thank you to everyone supporting me (which, frankly, is few people because most don’t know.)  To those suffering from anxiety: I know what it feels like, and I swear you’ll get through it.  There will be a lot of tears and arguments and ice cream runs, but you will persevere.  I had to choose to change my life by taking a year off against the wishes and advice of almost everyone who knows me.  Do whatever YOU need to deal with anxiety.  Don’t make the mistake of letting others dictate life for you.  Only you really know what you need.

The best way to explain what this is like is how one feels after a long sickness.  Your muscles are sore and you can’t just jump back into your usual routine.  You have to slowly go back to your normal schedules and activities slowly, and that’s what I’m attempting to do.  (I realize that is a lacking example.)

I have people doubting me, especially for taking some time from college.  I might not ever go back.  I don’t know.  Every time I get on Facebook and see how much all my friends have done in one year while I’ve been struggling just to live normally frustrates and depresses me.  Sometimes I cry for no reason.

The last months have taught me the true meaning of one of my favorite Robert Burns quotes:

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Robert Burns

I thought I could plan everything and be strong, but it turns out I can’t get everything right all the time and I am far, far from perfect.  I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.  I don’t know what God has in store or why I have to go through this.

Don’t ask me what I’m going to do because I don’t know.  Every bone in my body screams in terror over the decisions I’m making.  Most days I feel immobile, but I’m doing my best.

All I know is I’m going to get back on my feet and live my life.  I still have anxiety, but I’m learning how to deal with it.  I hope others with anxiety also learn to embrace it and live a meaningful life.