Handling Criticism

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

I awoke at three this morning with an aching back (thunderstorms), then my mind began wheeling and there was no getting back to sleep. So I figured, what the hell? Get up and chat with y’all. I’d love to say the storm, my aching back or the toddler who gets up at three every morning lately (which is seriously spooky and a tad Paranormal Activity) is the sole cause of my sudden insomnia.

Alas, it isn’t. Why am I awake? The thought of rejection.

I’d love to tell you guys I’ve always been good at handling criticism, but truth is, when I started writing I had the skin of a grape and needed far more outside approval than was probably healthy.

Boldly…Okay Not-So-Boldly-Going…

The first two books are behind me and both did fantastic, but what about this third one? It’s completely different and I take some huge risks. What if people think I was eating lead paint, licking toads and smoking Qualudes while writing?

Wait. Does one smoke Qualudes?

What if everyone HATES it????

And this is probably why I’m up at three in the morning (aside from creepy toddler activity). I’m on the ledge of something entirely new, about to take the plunge. The book is at the formatter. This is the first time publishing on my own. I’m no longer a newbie. It’s a bigger game and I’m super glad I have you guys or I’d be terrified.

Okay more terrified.

Humans Dig Approval

Hey, I’m not immune. We all wan’t approval. We’re human. Yet, the problem is, criticism is part of life. Yesterday, we talked about writing fast, finishing and shipping. The best way to get really good at writing books is….ready for this? Writing books. As in plural. 

One of the main reasons writers work a book to DEATH is they fear criticism. They fear failure and rejection. So they work and rework and rework and never put themselves out there. Been there, done that, myself.

I know fear is a big reason I allowed my proposal to sit with an agent for eighteen months. I wanted the green light, the outside assurance that Rise of the Machines will be the best thing since unicorn stickers.

Putting ourselves out there is frightening. We open ourselves to rejection. Yet, the thing is, as much as it stings, criticism is vital to success.

Image via WANA Commons

Original image via GrandmaLow WANA Commons

Criticism Let’s Us know Where We Can Improve and Grow

We can’t fix what we can’t see. Criticism (when done properly) can take us to a new professional level. One of the reasons I’ve loved working with Piper Bayard is I didn’t have to waste time candy-coating my feedback and serving it on a polished platter so she wouldn’t cry.

I could say, “No, that doesn’t work. Here’s why.” Still can and it saves time for both of us.

And since I didn’t have to waste time adding fluff and glitter to all my critique, she’s now a published author with a critically-acclaimed book, Firelands. It’s AWESOME, btw.

Piper also has a seven-book series ahead. One is already written (and it ROCKS) and the next six are plotted. She’s a faster, better writer because she could take criticism, learn and move forward.

When it comes to my new book, I want to believe every review will be 6 stars out of 5, but I know that isn’t reality. Some people won’t like the book and I’ll learn and do better with the next book and the next.

Storms Make Us Stronger

Somewhere I heard a story about a bio-dome experiment. Scientists wanted to grow all kinds of plants and trees inside the safety of a dome. The trees were perfectly spaced, received just the right amount of water, sun, and nutrition. They were shielded from the outside elements in an ambient bubble of perfect and the scientists fully believed this would yield ideal trees because they were growing in an ideal “world.”

Yet, over time, the scientists noticed the trees never grew past a certain height and their roots were very shallow. Also, to add to the scientist’s surprise, it seemed trees outside the dome, trees faced with drought, competition, and storms fared better and grew bigger.

How could this be?

What they learned is that storms broke branches, yes. But damage forced the trees to get tougher in the broken places. Trees that had to compete for sunlight had to grow taller. Sometimes there was drought, and this forced the trees’ roots to grow deeper making them stronger and more resistant to high winds because they were anchored.

Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons

Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons

We Don’t Grow in Pink Perfect Bubbles

I know there will be criticism. There always is. Yet, thing is? I’ve been in critique groups where everyone just told each other how awesome their writing was, and you know what? No one grew. The writing never improved.

I don’t know about you, but I want each book I write to be better than the last. I can’t do this if I don’t have (sometimes painful) feedback. We need storms *shrugs*

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

We Have to Accept That We Can’t Please Everyone

Part of getting a healthy relationship with criticism is learning to discern what’s constructive versus destructive. Some people are just jerks. Nothing we do will please them, so learn to shrug them off.

Focus on the positive, but at least acknowledge the negative. Maybe the person has a point, but maybe the person is a lunatic. Not all feedback is relevant or even sane. 

Listen to the constructive and ditch the destructive as soon as possible. It’s toxic. If we try to please everyone, we’ll end up pleasing no one. “Books by Committee” suck.

What are your thoughts? Suggestions? Do you fear rejection? Fear failure? Is it keeping you from moving forward? Have you been hurt by criticism only to realize it was the best thing for you?

To make you guys laugh, I’ve included a vlog I did about the first time my fiction was critiqued :D….

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnAbPbuFohw&w=560&h=315]

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!


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  1. Good luck with your new book. Brave indeed!

    No one can publish, anything, ever, and hope for unicorns and rainbows. Best to never publish, if that’s what you need and all you can take. There will always be readers who loathe your work (cool — it hit a nerve!) and those who love it (send ’em cake. No, too stalkerish.) It’s the ones who say “meh” or never bother to read it that are the worst.

    Having said all that, I stopped reading amazon “reviews” a long, long time ago. There are people intellectually capable of critiquing the WORK and people who have screaming tantrums because they, personally, do not like the work or you, the author — you know, someone they have never met and never will but they just KNOW you. As if. Feel free to ignore these people. Their “insights” are often toxic and merely ad hominem attacks disguised as a “review.”

    Your first readers and editors and agents have much to offer. After that, read and listen to feedback, but don’t feel compelled to take every face-punch of your work to heart.

  2. You’re book will do well. I know I’m anxious to buy it. Shoot down those doubt harpies (little devils) and smile.

  3. Aww, the video got cut off at the end. It was fantastic!

    I’m one of those people with grape-thin skin who aspires to rhinoceros levels of toughness. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I AM learning to take criticism, and messages like this one that encourage me to keep going are always a huge help. Hearing your story made me laugh, and it helped me understand that we all go through this.

    I would be in the car crying. Totally.

    So thank you for this, and I hope everything goes well with the new book. Sorry you had to be up at three in the morning…

    • Ash on June 18, 2013 at 8:31 am
    • Reply

    Need to work on positively accepting criticism myself….I have a tendency to run out of a room with hands over my ears to not get discouraged. LOL. Which is hardly constructive to growing. 🙂

  4. Amen to ALL you’ve said. Two years ago an agent took the time to tell me what was wrong with my novel. I listened and am just about finished with a complete rewrite. It’s better than ever now and when it hits the market, I know that this time it really is reader ready.

  5. I’ve pondered this before. I have been writing and workshopping writing for years now and when I get criticism now it doesn’t hurt much less than when I first started. Initially it feels like getting kicked in the gut. But I have come to accept that this is unlikely to change. I will always be attached to my writing and it will always be hard to hear being spoken ill of, even if it’s in a constructive way. However, now I know you go away, you make a cup of tea and you ahev a sit. You don’t through the laptop out the window and you don’t set first to the house. It eventually sinks in that I’m pass9ionate about writing and I want to get better at it. I go back to teh critique, I take from it what is useful and what is helpful. I ignore the rest. Because, lets face it, sometimes poeple just won’t like what you’re doing because they just won’t. There’s no way you will bring these people round so don’t try. Work on the people that like it and like it so muhc they want to see it achieve its full potential 🙂 you are exactly right, in fact, on every point. But I wonder if it will ever get to the point where it won’t feel like being stabbed all over initially lol

    • prudencemacleod on June 18, 2013 at 8:37 am
    • Reply

    Welcome to my world, Kristen. I wish you super success with this first venture into the world of self publication. It may be scary coming through the door, but it really is friendly in here.
    Oh, I’d check the kid’s room for extra glasses of water…

  6. The video was inspired! And the best thing I learned from my first book, was that I need to work with an editor. Am now in the process of finding one.

  7. I think the sooner we all learn that key phrase “you can’t please everyone”, then the better off we all are. There is way too much criticism in the world. Just recently there was a big to do over the Miss USA contestant that had trouble with answering one of the questions during the pagent. I think rather than criticizing her so much, everyone could have been supportive that she was so brave to be in the pagent and give it her best.

  8. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Absolutely! I’ve only gotten 2 reviews for my book (sooo wish I had more), one good (but not very helpful) and one bad. And you know what? As much as the bad hurt to read, I’ve applied it to my WIP. Now if I could only get critiques of my blog….

  9. Nothing is universally liked. Not even ice cream.

    This has been my mantra for the past three-plus years since I first published. Sure, I love to get the glowing review, but I also recognize that my work will never appeal to everyone. I make mistakes, try to learn from them, and move on to the next project.

    Also, keep the Spawn up late one or two nights, just to break up the routine. That might bust him out of his zombie-like behavior. 😉

    1. Wait, there are people who don’t like ice cream??

      1. Yes, we call them “freaks” LOL

      2. I know, right? 😉

  10. Kristen, great universal post. We’re all there. And the old saying really is true: what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (much as we might wish it weren’t). I’ve found that criticism makes me really delve deep into my characters and my story–is the criticism correct? I am forced to consider it both ways and see which way lines up with the truth of my story, because in the end, the truth is all that matters. If we’re serving our egos, we are not serving our stories. Thanks for being so candid.

  11. I like constructive criticism, it’s a great tool and it helps me grow. But I’m also terrified of opening the critique I’ve received from someone who’s never read my stuff before. I went through the prologue, where he heavily edited (to show me what a professional might do to my work), and all the green marks were overwhelming. BUT I LOVED IT, once I was in a good mindset to look through it. He tightened things up, dropped others, nitpicked me to all hell and he did a wonderful job of it, too. He pointed out some stylistic things and how they might not really work as well as I thought. Some of those things might stay, because my style is my style, but others? Well, I’m gonna think long and hard about those…

    I still haven’t looked at the rest of the work (7 chapters left to read through his comments and all), but I’m almost excited for it. Just gotta gear myself up for it.

  12. Criticism is always painful, I think.
    I have come to this solution: I first decide if the reviewer has a valid point (as you say, some people are just jerks). If the point is worth considering, I try to think of the person as my “gamma” reader. I find I can take the criticism better if I pretend I asked for it (which I did, by publishing my story). I never need my beta readers to sugar coat anything, so if I think of the anonymous reviewer as a sort of second-string-beta reader I can handle it.

  13. It’s nice to know that even a successful author is worried about rejection. As an aspiring novelist, I really struggle with rejection and have a hard time regrouping once I receive them. As a result, I have many manuscripts sitting hanging around in files on my computer wondering why I have abandoned them. Recently I got back into revising one of them and thought, hey, this isn’t that bad. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy as a writer. Thanks for the post!

  14. I totally loved this, Kristen. My story exactly–a story that’s still being written, hopefully, because I’m still trying to learn!

    • DJ Austin on June 18, 2013 at 9:16 am
    • Reply

    I’m much happier editing someone else than having them edit me–

    • Marilyn Quigley on June 18, 2013 at 9:17 am
    • Reply

    Love your blog and love this one especially. I sent it to my pastor. Who gets more criticism than the clergy? Well, okay, writers in a critique group, but we ask for it. I had just given a fellow poet some tough criticism, so I sent this to him too.

  15. So glad I found your blog! I like those who tell it like it is. 🙂

    • ladyinthehouse on June 18, 2013 at 9:29 am
    • Reply

    I’ve been rejected so many times, I now have a glass of wine for each one;) I love to edit, and I love my work being edited. Sometimes someone says something really brilliant to me, something I never thought of before, and it makes my work amazingly better. I like criticism much better than “this is awesome” or “this is perfect.” When it is language, there is always room for improvement;) And tough skin comes with the territory. Wonderful post!! Thank you;)

  16. Love the “you can’t please all the people all the time” attitude. I hope I’ll be able to hold on to it when it comes time to send my baby to beta-readers. I’m on my first revision now, and re-reading what I wrote years ago is SO painful. I’ve learned a lot from all the wonderful writers on Twitter and WANA, and I’m hoping the revision will show that.

    Wish me luck. 🙂

  17. What’s weird is my writing is the ONE thing about me where criticism didn’t hurt. And so far, four books on the market and (knock on wood) not one bad review yet. I feel as if I’m not doing enough, lol. I am so bass ackwards sometimes.

  18. Having been in art classes from middle school all through college (I’m an art major), I’m fortunate to have grown up on a steady diet of healthy and unhealthy criticism. It has served me soooooooooooooooooooo well.

    Seriously, if you can survive your own mother calling your sculpture a “butt plug,” you’re all set. 🙂

  19. I have a great critique group, we are each others cheerleaders/ drill Sargent. Because we want to see all of us succeed we are very firm and honest with each other. Sometimes we want to kill each other or just burst into tears but at the end of a meeting we feel inspired and willing to do the hard work to make our books better.

  20. Love this. Always a good reminder to toughen up and consider what you’re being told. Hey, I linked my blog to your blog! http://www.storiesbylee.blogspot.com.

  21. ***Part of getting a healthy relationship with criticism is learning to discern what’s constructive versus destructive. Some people are just jerks. Nothing we do will please them, so learn to shrug them off.***
    As always your timing is impeccable. I’m dealing now with negative people in one of my other “worlds” Thicker skin is so critical for our daily lives

  22. Wonderful perspective – a few years ago, when immersing myself in gardening how-to books, I learned that vegetables that struggle with conditions actually contain more nutrients than those grown under near perfect conditions (greenhouses) – like the tree story did for you, the vegetable story changed my perspective on life’s storms.

  23. This definitely makes me nervous. I am an over-editor because I fear it’s never good enough. Critique groups have pros and cons so finding a good one is special. I wish you the best of luck on your new book Kristen, though I don’t think you’ll need luck. You practice what you preach so I know that you’ve written the best book possible and it will be in the Kristen voice we’ve come to know and love. Plus, you’re the social media jedi, so you have a ton of friends to support you and your work! I’m happy to help when it’s out!

  24. All the best on your new adventure! I’m sure that your fear is more than what will really happen. 🙂

  25. Back in April I taught one of my most successful writing classes to date. I was completely myself with no candy coating. And I had the students hand in up to 20 pages of their novel during the first class. I spent a lot of my spare time reading and editing them. And after I handed them back, half of the class left. I was pretty devastated at first. Until the other half of the class started begging me beat them up more. It was bloody and vicious and they were becoming better writers before my very eyes. Their second drafts were incredible compared to the firsts! I just wish the other students had stuck it out long enough for me to see their second drafts. I’m dying to know what they are like!

    Well, except for the lady that was writing a YA fantasy that has only read the Twilight books in the past 20 years (seriously, she doesn’t read AT ALL!)

    As always, thanks, Kristen!

  26. You are pretty funny in this vlog. It’s nice to know I’m in good company.
    I’m open to constructive criticism, but I cringe inside when I get it. It’s difficult to seperate that your writing is being criticized, not you.

    As a Psychiatrist would say, “It’s not that you *don’t* accept/understand it, you’re not *ready* to accept/understand it.”

    Keep the great posts and vlogs coming!
    MJ 🙂

  27. Remember, Kristen, the first rule of the internet has, in some form or another, been around since actors first trod the stage. Don’t read the comments! There is a difference between professional criticism (such as what might go on between a writer and her/his editor) and the wild, drunken keyboard-bashing that often gets espoused as “critiques” by sometime bloggers looking to get free press-passes and You-Tube commenters.

  28. I know exactly how you feel. Nervousness about self-publishing is driving me crazy. I keep changing my mine. But we both know we have to step off the ledge and let go. You’ll do great!

    • malindalou on June 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm
    • Reply

    Hard though it can be to see, it’s important to remember that just because a reader doesn’t like your content, that doesn’t mean he hates you. (He might, but the two concepts can be mutually exclusive.)

  29. I’m currently writing a series. I entered a portion of my first novel in three contests for the RWA: the Sheila and the Golden Claddagh. I just received word back from two of the contests. This was my first time entering any contests so I was very afraid. The results came in and, for the most part, the judges were gentle. I didn’t win either contest but I got what I wanted out of them because I really just wanted the judges to give me feedback. I received 210 points out of 235 possible! So close! But, the judges all echoed the same thing, I have an issue with Point of View. Between the two contests, I had seven judges giving me their critique. One judge in particular made me want to claw into my pen and hide; she was downright nasty in her opinion. But others told me that my novel needed only minor fixes and would be ready for publishing! The advice was sometimes hard to hear but I looked at it as direction. I now know where I need to strengthen my work. I plan to take a POV workshop before publishing.

  30. Typo: “crawl into my pen”.

    1. Eh, I don’t see them. Happy for the comment ;).

    • Tamara LeBlanc on June 18, 2013 at 8:16 pm
    • Reply

    Ugh, I know exactly what you mean. Actually, I think most writers would agree that fear of rejection is something they’ve dealt with on a regular basis.
    I’m still working through edits for my agent, but I’m worried…what if it sucks? I’ve had “Spock brain” for a while now and need to give it the Vulcan pinch so that I can finish and move on.
    Best wishes on many, many, many sales on your latest book. Don’t fear rejection, embrace possibility 🙂
    I’ll try and take my own advice.
    Have a great evening,

  31. There is a difference between positive feedback and criticism with intent and malice. I tend to ignore both and I just continue on with what I really want to do. If I had a nickel for every criticism, I still would not be a millionaire so why listen to it. My relatives here are saying that I would be a millionaire by now with all my outspoken ideas. But I wrote on articles that to end the poverty of the Philippines for those capable to build a kingdom at the Philippines. Even delinquent priests are my worse critics. Forbes Magazine has listed 10 Filipinos with a net worth in billions of American dollars. It was zero, no Filipino billionaire, when I started writing my articles. It was one of the criticisms that I was full of doodoo. The Philippines, back then, did not even have one billionaire and you really need private capital to end poverty because government has proven time and time again that it cannot. Well, the object was to help those with private capital to invest effectively into the country. We had at least one worth $300 million plus to invest back into the country. My relatives can criticize my ideas for my birth country, but not everybody listens to them. The poverty is ending.

    • robynaldridge on June 18, 2013 at 11:15 pm
    • Reply

    Great vlog, Kristen. BTW, did you record it yourself? You bent forward at the end and it looked like you were about to press a button. I attnded a videographer’s workshop on Monday night. One never knows where ideas will come from… Looking forward to tuning in again tomorrow.

    1. Yes, I did it on my Mac and I still am not very good at it, but practicing 😀

    • Aerisa on June 19, 2013 at 6:24 am
    • Reply

    LOL after you sobered up and came out from under all the twinkie bar wrappers (spelling?). Lucky we don’t have them here, but we do have Tim Tams…chocolate coated comfort 😉

  32. Fear of rejection…oh yes, definitely. I’ve been working on this for a while and while it’s terribly difficult I’m definitely getting better. My writing is still wrought with issues, but I’ve learned quite a bit from having others point out all my faults (*shudder*).

    On another note, my toddler also wakes up at 3 am every freaking morning. It must be some kind of creepy group mind thing. D:

  33. Your new book looks very interesting, and dare I say, your self-pubbed cover out does your first two. I’ve played the waiting game myself for a *long* time and it’s been a great learning process. But this year, I realized, I’m ready. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonnit, people are gonna like my books. 😉 Why wait for the professionals to “okay” my book, when, in the waiting, I’ve developed the professional skills needed to do it myself? And while I’m at it, why not start my own publishing company. 😀 I’ve appreciated your guidance and encouragement over the past couple years. I’ve mostly been lurking, in the background, taking it in, quietly formulating my plans for world domination…

  34. Love, love, love the tree growing example – thank you!

  35. I hate rejection like everyone else. But, I hate not knowing more. At least if everyone thinks it’s crap, I know I may need to do something different. Your tree analogy was perfect. Evolution occurs because of challenges.

  36. My first novel received pretty glowing reviews in the media, except for one. That reviewer said I didn’t know ‘how to structure a story very well’. While I cried and sulked for a while, it turned out she was right; the book starts out too slow for the modern reader, which probably (at least partially) explains its ultimately lackluster sales. I’ve learned my lesson with novel number 2 – it starts with a bang!

  37. I am betting your new book will get plenty of positive reviews. Always have to be prepared for the negatives though. A tough skin lets us grow stronger.

  38. Another great post, Kirsten. You’re so good it @ blogs.

    • Lorraine Ruff on June 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm
    • Reply

    Hiya, Kristen:

    I’m so pleased that you wrote the rejection article when you did. We are having an issue with a gentleman who has decided not to return to a local bookwriters’ group because he took the criticism he received pretty hard. I hadn’t joined as yet, but I certainly observed and managed the issue when I was a general manager for a large PR firm in Boston.

    So, with your permission, I’d like to share your thoughts and words that can get folks thinking about the responsibility of providing criticism to nascent writers.

    All the best. You’re a pretty damn good oracle of good thinking that you lovingly pass onto us all.


    Lorraine Ruff

    Technology-run-amuck novelist


    1. I love sharing it. Read Monday’s post for more ;). Critique is a delicate art. We have to help writers without crushing their will to create. Yet, also writers need to develop rhino skin at the same time. Share anything you need.

  39. Love the vlog. So nice to have a voice and personality to go with the written word. You are such a doll. I think you are missing a bet by not getting your pretty face in front of more people. Yes, I remember my first critique group well. The book they discussed still has not seen the light of day there were so many errors. Still have your book suggestions on my Amazon want list. I try to learn a little every day. With as little as I know. it isn’t that hard to do. Can’t wait for the next post.

    1. Aww, thanks Edward. I have more vlogs in the queue…now to edit them together, LOL.

  40. Very good message. Very well said.

  41. LOL. I’ve learned to take the comments of my critique group with lots of salt – mostly in my open, gaping wounds. It was hard at first. One member of the group in particular seems to delight in his brutally “honest” critiques. Once even suggesting that my style was more suited to non-fiction. How helpful!
    Now as I review the written red-lines, I look at the source and adjust my mindset accordingly.

  42. I absolutely loved the story about the strong trees. I even shared it with my son, and we compared it to his experience playing football. Your book will be great! Now get some sleep!!

  43. You know, Kristen, I love your blog posts and this one is particularly helpful. I personally haven’t published my book yet… it’s planned but not on the market yet.
    And yes… critique is one thing that scares the hell out of me.
    Do I survive when I get it? I wish I could say “yes”… and take it easy… but fact is: I don’t know…
    One could say now: Why did you become a writer if you can’t take it? And my reply is: because I love the writing-part… *sigh*

    • DawnB. on June 27, 2013 at 8:00 am
    • Reply

    I’ve grown a thicker skin over the years and think I handle criticism well. At least from the writing world. It’s those in the non-writing world whose criticism I struggle with. *sigh*

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