Writing Advice: How To Respond To Criticism

One of the things that trips up many would-be authors is the simple fact that we need criticism.  We thrive on it.  The only way we improve is by learning what to fix.  But you know, it’s hard to be told “this is bad.”  So most of us freak out and run away.  But how should you respond?  What should you do?  Should you just ignore itand do what you think is right?  Should you prostrate yourself on the ground and accept all of it?  Should you give up?

Well, here’s what you should do whenever someone criticizes your work:

1. Analyze it for truth. Note that truth does not involve “YOUR WORK SUCKS AND YOU SUCK.”  No.  What I mean by this is, look for specifics and see if they apply (“your secondary characters don’t seem realistic” “your dialogue is stilted” “You need more commas” “analyze the plot progression, I got confused”).

2. Analyze it for garbage.  “You suck” is garbage.  “You should quit” is garbage.  “Female characters suck” is garbage.  “I don’t like your religion” is garbage.  “You’re immature for wanting to write” is garbage.  And so on… basically, criticism that makes you feel worthless is like excrement – it needs to be expelled and flushed down the toilet before it poisons you.  Criticism that gives you a way to improve is excellent, like a sharpening stone that shaves down a knife until it is like a razor.  Sometimes you can glean truth from garbage, but destroying the garbage is quite important.

3. Learn what is irrelevant.  If somebody does not like your genre, or your style, or whatever, then they can’t be blamed for disliking it.  Someone who hates romantic comedies is not fit to judge a romantic comedy, because their own opinions will color their perception.

4. See what you can improve.  And  You. Can. Improve. Do you hear me?  Writing is a skill like any other – it takes practice.  The more you work, the better you get.  You don’t just quit your job because your first day was rough, so keep writing.  If you can find some direction (“okay, my dialogue sounds stilted and formal. I am going to listen to how people talk and try to imitate that more”), then you are well on your way to turning that weakness into a strength.

5. Remember what matters.  The best sci-fi author in the universe is going to be criticized by somebody who hates science fiction.  The best author in the universe is going to be criticized by people with an axe to grind.  What matters is your writing.  Your craft.  We can all improve, whether we’re Stephen King or Joe Typo.  Always strive to improve, and refuse to give up.  If you can use criticism to improve, then improve.  If you can’t, then ditch it and look for what helps you improve.  That is how to be a great author, and whomever is reading this… look, you can do it.  Trust me, you can.

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