writers have to be tough

Today I was on the receiving end of a tough review of my latest story. It was the kind of critique that can throw you into a spiral of depression where every dream you ever had about becoming a decent writer is shredded.

Even while I was on the cusp of the vortex, looking into the swirling depths of my failure, I knew that I would get over it. Because the only other alternative is to give up. And I’m not about to do that.

A short period later I read another review, this one more favourable, and more helpful, which disagreed with the first.

It’s a sharp reminder that personal tastes vary wildly from reader to reader, and you will never please everyone. What one person considers genius, another thinks is the illiterate ravings of a peasant throwing muck at a page.

Here’s what I do if I review a piece of writing:

  1. I stick to critiquing the writing, not the person.
  2. I try to find something positive to contribute.
  3. If I can’t find something useful to say then I don’t review the material.
  4. My criticism strives to be constructive, and I try to offer solutions and suggestions.
  5. I can only offer an opinion, and I can’t guarantee that it’s right.

Ultimately, I remember that there is a human being behind the writing.

Different people have different approaches, however.

I’ve learned not to take criticism personally. Even when it’s hard, I remember to create distance between me and my work.

I enjoy it when people offer insights that open up my fiction constructively in new and exciting ways. That energises me to tackle the piece again and make it better.

If I want my writing to improve, I have to put my feelings to one side and be objective about my work–no matter how gut-wrenchingly difficult it is at times. So, even if my feelings are battered, I’d prefer to get useful advice than none at all.


  • Corrinne

    boy do I completely understand the pain and more pain of the critique phase of writing. I just finished my English degree (creative writing emphasis) and I was frequently appalled when my classmates would rip apart my stories, only to be told by the professor later that it was of publishable quality as it stood. Cripes! I’m preparing myself for grad. school which starts in January for me and I’m really nervous about even harsher critiques there. That said, I’m with you. We’re writers, and there’s not much that will change that so I think our only alternatives are to quit (no way!) or just keep writing to please ourselves…

    • Maura

      Hi Corrinne – yeah, the workshop process can be liberating, crushing, insightful, and (hopefully) helpful in one’s evolution as a writer.It never gets easier, but you learn how to cope with it. Good luck with grad school next year… 🙂

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