Writing is not a career you choose because you want to please everyone. There are bound to be many (so, so many) critics on the path to publishing. Whether they are beta readers, alpha readers, editors, or your general audience, everyone will have an opinion on what you should say and how you should say it.
Part of our work as writers is to analyze these critiques in a way that allows us to harness the positive and push away the unconstructive—this is easier said than done. If you’ve been brave enough to share your writing with the world, or even considered it, you may have already come across a few different types of critics:
The Shy Critic: a person who slyly pushes your work aside without any feedback at all, ignoring your inquires or requests for edits.
The Helpful Critic: a person who offers constructive feedback and support while you perfect your piece; otherwise known as the critic of a writer’s dreams.
The Too Helpful Critic: a person who provides no negative feedback, even when you need it, and pretends your writing is always perfect when you know it’s not.
The Wannabe Writer Critic: a person who isn’t a writer themselves but provides so much feedback you wonder if they should just go write a book of their own.
But the worst critic I have encountered so far in my career, regardless of whether it was pertaining to a creative or business work of writing, is The Aggressive Critic. This is a person who rejects your work without any constructive feedback at all. Who replies with phrases such as, Terrible, Unmoving, Worst book ever, Not good, Nope, I’m going to rewrite it myself.
I’d love to say that after writing for decades I’m finally in a place where I take all the positive and let the negative blow away with the wind. But we all know that’s not how writing works.
Every time I come face to face (or text to text) with an aggressive critic, I feel rage; my chest burns, my mind clouds, my shoulders tense, my stomach churns. I have a sudden urge to set everything in my life that has anything to do with writing on fire. The aggressive critics are the worst, not only because of their harshness but because their comments, however false, are the ones that always stick.
I recently received feedback from an aggressive critic on a business article I wrote for a website. It was the second piece of content in a row that received not just a lackluster response, but an entirely negative one. At first, I was ready to email back my thoughts; I think you can all imagine the number of expletives that might have been used in this draft.
But then I stopped and thought: Is this really worth it? Does this article define my career as a writer? Is this particular client the audience I’m reaching out towards?
No. Thankfully, no.
It was just business. An article on a topic that did not concern me, in a voice that was not my own, mimicking a chosen style that I would never write in. But the brash comments still had the power to ruin what was left of my day. I knew I had to start reacting differently.
So, I sat down and wrote a poem in my journal instead of a nasty email to the client, probably a safer bet for my reputation. A poem to remind me of my goals as a writer and the drive I have to see my work take flight:
Thank you... To the reader who told me my writing was just no good and to the one who deleted my work with one tap and no concern. To the reader who missed the point and gave me a shrug and to the one who said I have a better idea in reaction to a piece that took a year. To the reader who said You’re depressing to written accounts of real events and to the one who just didn’t have time to finish my piece. To the reader who compared my work to every other famous writer—ever and to the one who told me that Poetry is whining in verse. But mostly... Thank you to the reader who said Sorry, you can’t write boldly offering to rewrite all my work, because it’s easier to read and judge than to write and share with the world. Thank you… For the strength of your unconstructive mutters the ones that inspire more words and tales of mysterious murders. The ones that result in sleepless nights and poems that venture from the deep. The ones that push me to wake up before the sun and write the tales I truly desire. The ones that fuel my dreams. My dreams to prove you wrong.
No matter which critics you encounter on your path, there is a silver lining to be found. Let the nasty comments fuel the fire that makes you write. Let the unconstructive piece of criticism make you better than you were.
Find the reasons why you want to write. Remember them. Recite them often. There will be countless days when others put you down and make you question your words, but that’s your strength: your words. Use them as the weapons they are, creating secret battles on paper, where you as the amazing writer always triumphs over the thoughtless comments of others.
You got this.
About the Writer: Shell Sherwood is a poet, fiction writer, freelancer, and creator of silly children’s stories who could live on coffee, pastries, and romantic tragedies. She lives in Hudson Valley, NY with her fiancé and three boys, and aspires to own a small writing getaway in every climate. Learn more about Shell and follow her writing journey via her author blog and Instagram.