How To Handle Criticism

He glared at me and said, “Look how you’re dressed.”

I looked down and could see only what I had seen in the mirror that morning, the suit and shirt and tie that was customary for students at the time.

“Your suit is blue,” he said. “Your shirt is blue, your tie is blue. That’s what’s wrong with your writing.”

When my ordeal was over I slunk away from Goodman’s cubicle to rethink the sameness of my writing and to learn the value of variety. It took some time for me to learn the other lesson, that a writer, shy or not, needs a tough skin, for no matter how advanced one’s experience and career, expert criticism cuts to the quick, and one learns to endure and to perfect, if for no other reason than to challenge the pain-maker.

On Writing by Sol Stein

Effective criticism, however hard it is to take, will make you a better writer.

But how do you handle criticism — and how can you tell good feedback from bad?

  1. Detach
    Effective criticism is aimed at your story, not you. Don’t get defensive; stand back and evaluate the feedback logically.

  2. Experiment
    Criticism isn’t necessarily right or wrong, so it’s important to experiment with reader suggestions. It costs you nothing to make a copy of your story and tweak it as suggested. At worst, you’ll go back to the original version, but you may find you love the new version even more.

  3. Compare
    Criticism reveals a reader’s experience of your story. The more feedback you get, the better you’ll be able to sift through the comments and identify what is and isn’t working.

Dealing with criticism the right way will help your writing progress — so take a deep breath and learn to endure and to perfect, if for no other reason than to challenge the pain-maker.

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