Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Do You Survive Criticism?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

Being a writer means being vulnerable. I’m talking, rip your shirt open, aim your chest toward the heavens, and let the vultures have at it. I learned long ago that if I wanted to be an author, I'd have to accept this fact. And while, for the most part, people are wonderful, there will always be haters; they’re everywhere. And yes, they do suck. 

Of course, accepting this philosophy is one thing. Surviving it is another. We, as authors, are human. We’re a sensitive lot. We pour our hearts and souls  onto the pages, and taking criticism, regardless of how much truth there is to it, isn’t easy. But we all have to endure it, whether it’s a nasty review, email, or passing remark. Friends, both readers and writers, often ask how I cope with that. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I deal with it. I have no choice. I’ve developed a coping strategy. Sometimes it even works:

  1.  Accept that this is the nature of the beast. Simply put, if you can’t handle criticism, you’ve chosen the wrong business. This is not brain surgery; this is the arts, and being as such, not only must you accept criticism, you should expect it. 
  2. Take what you can use, throw away the rest. Constructive criticism is always welcome. I know I’ll never stop growing as a writer, and growing means listening. Besides, who better to give feedback than the readers? I consider them experts and their input important. If something resonates with me, I take it to heart. If it doesn’t, I respectfully consider it a difference of opinion and move on. I’ve learned a lot from my readers and I hope I never stop. 
  3. The exact moment someone gets nasty is the exact moment I realize it’s not about the book. It’s about them. When somebody becomes belligerent or starts calling names, I know there’s something else at work, that their motivation is more than likely coming from a bad place. Constructive criticism is thoughtful. Hate requires none. 
  4.  Not everyone is going to like my couch, and that’s okay. I look at it this way: tastes vary widely from person to person. If I bought a new couch—one I found particularly cool and awesome—and showed it to fifty different people, it’s a sure bet I’d get fifty different opinions. Some would love it, some would feel indifferent about it, and yes, some might even hate it. Does that make it a bad couch? Nope (of course, if everyone hated it, then I’d have to do some rethinking about my couch, just as I would with my book). But someone is bound to hate it. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. That’s called life. 
  5. Take pride. Anyone who has written a novel knows what a ridiculously difficult job it can be, but it’s also a huge accomplishment. I am by no means perfect, nor would I ever delude myself into thinking I produce perfect work. But I do take great pride in it. I trust my instincts. Even more important, I live for the process, and nobody can take that away from me. Whether I have one reader or thousands, whether people love my books or hate them, I will always write,  always love writing, and will always, every step of the way, enjoy the journey. 

What about you? How do you cope with criticism?


  1. I've developed thick skin over the years, and I ignore most criticism. In fact, I read very few of my reviews. But I've been very lucky and get almost no feedback that could be considered hateful, except from religious extremists for THE SEX CLUB. But I expected that.

    I'm sorry to hear you're having to deal with it. Just keep smiling and cashing those Amazon checks.

  2. Drew, a fabulous post with terrific points. One you forgot (that we've actually talked about) is to realize you're not the first person who ever received negative criticism in a public forum (reviews).

    I've been steeling myself for some bad reviews. They're bound to come. I think I'll probably allow myself about 4 1/2 minutes to wallow, then pick myself up off the floor, dust off, wipe my eyes and move on.

  3. Great post, Drew! Makes me realize that you authors are a courageous bunch, especially nowadays with Amazon's public reviews. Makes me think twice about wanting to publish my own book someday... The process sounds nervewracking! And the fact that a highly talented, excellent writer like you would get criticism is really scary!

    Makes me think of a fabulous restaurant I went to several times and just loved that had a bad review online. I asked the owner about it, and she said the bad review had been written by one of their competitors. Probably happens in the book biz, too.

  4. Great post Drew!

    Every author is criticized and the more controversial topics you touch, the more haters you'll attract.

    We all get negative reviews and you are so right that nasty ones are all about the messenger.

    I try to learn from the constructive and then focus on the supportive messages I get from true fans.

  5. If you can survive everything your mother tells you, you can survive criticism from complete strangers.

  6. I rarely have just one response to other people's comments. If I hit a raw nerve and the response is nasty, a part of me is excited that in some way I hit a needed mark, at the same time another part of me that seeks to be appreciated or loved may feel rejected and hurt. I accept all my responses and let them go through me without judging them. As if i were a simple radar receptive to the energy coming at me, and intrigued about it.

    An interesting thing happens then. As my feelings/sensations calm down I get a sense of where the other person came from. It is as if a new window allows me to see something that I was not seeing before. I can tell if the other person is scared of or misunderstood what I wrote. When I reread their comment, I have a more neutral perspective. My button is gone. I don't have to create a thick skin. I grow.

    Sometimes that means I rewrite to be clearer. Sometimes I may consider including the nasty comment in future work as a way to acknowledge other voices, as a way to heal the apparent split of worldviews.

  7. I do love to wallow in my misery and the simplest slight throws me down like a sucker punch. However, people are paying for a product and they want that product to be satisfying. Better than toothpaste, because there is no emotional investment with toothpaste. And so yes, I have to say that I do listen to what readers have to say and have even taken some of that to heart for use later. Good post.

  8. It’s irritating, but you soon learn to ignore it—well, at least after a coupe of minutes of irritation. I agree, Drew—there is a point when it is not about the book at all, but about the person’s own negativity. I also believe that some “hide” behind the Internet and use it as an opportunity to say ugly things.

    Most writers know, or soon learn, that not everyone will like their writing, and that’s understandable. Heck, don’t we learn that early-on while collecting rejection slips from agents and publishers? That tends to harden the skin.

  9. Awesome post, Drew. I read a hater's review a couple of days ago that really upset me and let off a little steam about it on fb. Not much. I didn't want to come across as dumb as he/she did.
    It's a sad but true fact that some people just live to tear others down. The best we can do is just rise above.

  10. Thanks for your comments, everyone. Interesting to see how we all cope a little differently. The important thing is, we all cope.

    I should stress that I don't encounter nastiness very often at all, and the majority of my readers--in fact almost all--are extremely kind and loyal. I want to make that clear. Unfortunately, it's the bad apples who tend to leave a bad taste and remain memorable at times. Like I've said on many occasions and will always say: I have the most awesome readers. No question.

  11. I've taken Dallas Willard's advice and learned how not to be offended. Most of the time when people strike out at you, they're coming from a place of their own pain. On the flipside, I have to work on not letting praise inflate my ego.

  12. Great post. When I get criticism, I try to evaluate it to see if there's something I can take away. Even though getting something really negative is stressful, after I've had a chance to deal with my own feelings, I try to see if I can learn from the experience. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

  13. It's an ongoing battle. Stepheny Meyer, JK Rowling--every author whether big or small--faces the good, bad and the ugly!

    You rock, Andrew, for putting yourself out there. Anyone who has the cyber-gumption to be outspokenly rude is just jealous that the only thing they can publish is their online comment.


  14. Criticism certainly sucks. But to thrive as a human being we have to learn to accept it. Everyone has to learn, be they butcher, baker, candlestick maker. A writer has not only to accept it, but to devour it. There is the rub. For who knows a writer out there without a humongous ego to whom criticism cuts a very wide swath. Learn to devour constructive criticism team, or perish.

  15. Thank you for this. This was a very good blog. I am going to take some of your strategies because they seem like they've helped you cope and reading them made me understand the nature of criticism better.

    To tell you the truth, I'd rather have a negative critique more than no comment at all. At least I've grabbed someone's attention with my book and got to pull a reaction from them instead of people ignoring my story all together.


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