Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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How to Take Criticism Like a Pro

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller
Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

One of the greatest blessings of being an author and teacher is I meet so many tremendous people. I feel we writers have a unique profession. It isn’t at all uncommon to see a seasoned author take time out of a crushing schedule to offer help, guidance and support to those who need it. I know of many game-changers, mentors who transformed my writing and my character. Les EdgertonCandace Havens, Bob Mayer, James Rollins, James Scott Bell, Allison Brennan are merely a few I can think of off the top of my head.

J.E. Fishman is another, and he offers a very unique perspective because he’s worked multiple sides of the industry. He was a former NYC literary agent, an editor for Doubleday and now he’s a novelist. His newest book A Danger to Himself and Others is masterfully written. I love books that make me pause, underline and dog-ear. As much as I think I know? I can always learn more. I make it a habit to study those who write better than I do.

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Today, J.E. Fishman is here to offer some of the best advice any of us can get when we’re new. If we’ve been around for awhile, we can always use a refresher. Writers do work an emotional, often isolated job, and it’s easy to forget to chew with our mouths closed be professional when so many of us are writing from beneath a pile of laundry and toys.

I hope this guest post blesses you as much as it has me…

Take it away!

J.E. Fishman
J.E. Fishman

We’re all amateurs at most things, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Maybe we shoot hoops after work or set up an easel in retirement. Perhaps we cook on weekends or spend the morning making an iMovie production of our summer vacation. We are neither professional basketball players nor professional painters nor chefs nor directors. We’re just having fun.

But what if we’re trying to achieve something more as writers? How do we get out of the bush leagues and behave more professionally?

Let’s start by acknowledging that amateurs often have conflicting priorities. They may allow foolish dreams to captivate them, for example, but they can’t always invest the hard work necessary to achieve those dreams. They frequently lean on raw talent when the greater challenge requires practicing craft. And with regard to criticism, they often have thin skin.

I’d like to talk about the thin skin part.

In my experience, professionals are not easily satisfied by their own work, whereas amateur writers take a degree of pride in their work that’s often not commensurate with the accomplishment. And if the person doing the criticizing is not a fellow writer, fuhgetaboutit!

What do they know, the tyro author tells himself. Or, if he’s rude, he says aloud, “What do you know?”

But this defensiveness is a sign of weakness. More important, it turns self-improvement — which is difficult enough in the best of times — into an insurmountable challenge.

Sure, the professional writer who can communicate the technical deficiencies of our work is worth heeding if we seek to improve. But the casual observer’s opinion is just as valuable. After all, most of our audience are just plain old readers, not writers.

Here’s something worth remembering: If we’re creating art, we owe our audience something, not the other way around.

A professional knows this because a professional lives and dies with it. Her skin may be thick or thin by inclination, but she forces herself to respond in certain ways toward criticism because she understands the stakes. To disappoint one audience member is potentially to disappoint all of them.

I was struck last month by a Chuck Wendig blog post in which he called out independent authors, challenging them not to publish amateurishly (“slush pile on display” were his words) — urging them to behave with professionalism, which is to say, to respect their audience. It got me thinking of the people I’ve worked with over the years as an editor and an agent and an author. Over time, you come to know a pro as much by her process as by the work she produces.

Some people think pros just work harder than everyone else. While it’s true that they often do, there are any number of other ways in which a professional distinguishes herself. Acceptance of criticism is among the most powerful. If we want people to take us seriously as a writer, we must take criticism like a pro does:

A pro respects roles. Your editor may or may not be a writer herself. In any case, it isn’t her job to rewrite your novel (unless you hired her specifically to do that, of course). The pro knows where her responsibilities lie.

A pro separates the work from himself — He pushes ego out of it. Even if we’re writing something very personal, we are not our work. The work is a form of communication. It is not what we are, but what we say. The pro doesn’t internalize criticism.

A pro seeks opportunities to learn from criticism. She knows that her art is not static, that a failure to grow with the craft will harm the next work. Every work becomes imperfect the moment it seeks expression. To learn as we go is a means of approaching that ever-elusive perfection.

A pro looks for the source of the problem, not easy fixes. He understands whose job it is to seek solutions. Hint: not the reader’s. Say the reader points to a given scene and asks of the protagonist, “Why’d he do that?” The facile answer might be, “Well, that guy was pointing a gun at him.” The writer here is telling himself that he only needs to clarify about the gun. But in fact, he must ask himself whether he needs to clarify the deeper character of the protagonist that would lead him to choose the action that’s been questioned.

A pro hears what is not said. The amateur too easily dismisses criticism that’s not expressed in the framework of how we think about our own craft. But the pro reads between the lines, asking herself what in the story caused the reader to have that reaction.

A pro accepts challenges. Not every item of criticism calls for a response within the work, but the default should never be a shrug of the shoulders. The pro understands that the path of least resistance, while tempting, rarely leads to great execution.

A pro never argues, never rebuts. The work should be all we ever need to convince anyone of anything. It stands alone. The pro knows that her work will eventually go out into the world defenseless. If a proper understanding of the work requires an off-the-page argument from the author, it’s already failed for that particular reader. There’s no point in discussing it further except perhaps by asking questions to learn.

A pro doesn’t belittle the messenger. Imagine if only architects were allowed to have opinions about the beauty (or utility) of a house. Don’t ever put down critical readers, even in your own mind. Respect your audience, and out of that respect will grow the potential for greatness.

Finally, a pro knows that all the aspects I’ve outlined here are aspirational. None of us is perfect at them — certainly not me. At times I have sniffed at criticisms, failed to read between the lines, not risen to the challenge.

Let’s face it, pro or amateur, criticism of our work always stirs up a measure of disappointment. That’s why we must train ourselves to respond as the pros we claim to be or aspire to be. In the age of specialization, people have high standards for the work of others. We must have those same high standards for ourselves.


*Applause* Thanks, J.E. I know all of this is tough to do. We are all works in progress. I know I am.

What about you guys? Are you struggling with leaving the role of the amateur? Are you actively seeking ways to toughen your skin? Or have you gotten to the point where you welcome the crucible? Were you always that way? I know I stared crying in my car after critique. Now? A beta can chop my work to the ground, burn it and then nuke it and I don’t take it personally. I LOVE that someone would take the time to give my work the “trial by fire” before the reviewers can. But, I was NOT always this way. I still struggle to remain this way.

I LOVE hearing from you!

J.E. Fishman, a former Doubleday editor and literary agent, is author of the wisecracking mystery Cadaver Blues, as well as thrillers The Dark Pool and Primacy. His Bomb Squad NYC series of police thrillers launches this month with A Danger to Himself and Others and Death March.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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. 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)

177 thoughts on “How to Take Criticism Like a Pro”

  1. Katya PavlopoulosKatya Pavlopoulos

    A pro doesn’t say JK Rowling should stop writing so that the said pro could have some shelf space. 🙂 Sorry, I just had to do that. Great post!

    • Elke FeuerElke Feuer

      I had a couple people in a writing group say the same thing. I was like, really?!

      • Katya PavlopoulosKatya Pavlopoulos

        What? You mean to tell me the said pro wasn’t the only one with such selfish thinking? We should be HAPPY that bestsellers continue to write, because that sets the bar that much higher, which translates into better quality books. Which, I suppose, is also selfish thinking since I want my books to be even better.

        Ok I need to stop lol, I may have just run out of coffee.

        • Elke FeuerElke Feuer

          Nope! Lots of others out there.

          I agree, Katya! I certainly wouldn’t want anyone telling my favorite authors to stop writing to make space for them.

          Say it isn’t so! I always have reserve. My co-workers and family value their lives too much. Lol!

          • Katya PavlopoulosKatya Pavlopoulos

            I should start planning ahead and bring drink reserves with me. This is an example of how writing makes us more organized, better planners, and nicer human beings 🙂

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Yeah, that J.K. Rowling thing was a head scratcher. Waiting for successful people to retire is generally not the best career move for anyone.

      • Elena LinvilleElena Linville

        Especially considering that just because a best selling author stops selling new books, nothing guarantees that the readers would automatically start buying the books of that other author who wanted them to stop writing. Readers will still buy books that they LIKE, best-sellers or not.

  2. Dave HigginsDave Higgins

    This is why I feel lucky to have worked as an advocate for many years.

    Having very intelligent people spend an entire court hearing telling the room why everything you have said is wrong quickly in the morning, then having them hire you to do a case in the afternoon quickly makes you separate criticism from personal attack.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      I once had a job that involved a lot of cold calling. I’d hang up in frustration (not to mention being hung up up on), and the more seasoned guy next to me would say sarcastically, “Take it personally.”

  3. moxeynsmoxeyns

    “A pro separates the work from himself” – working on that one! It generally takes me about 3 days to stop snarling and listen…

      • ET (Liz) Crowe (@beerwencha2)ET (Liz) Crowe (@beerwencha2)

        had my first “legit” beta reading session on a new project, something completely new for me on many levels. IT sucked. Which means I am gonna keep those Betas around for the next one, no matter how much I chewed the inside of my cheek. Honestly, my toughest Beta reader critic is my damn mother. But she is one of the only one who says: Stop defending this. It’s crap. Just listen! Go figure. GREAT advice. just bought your book btw

        • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

          My MOM saved me from myself with my first book, LOL. I credit her with me growing up to be a “real” writer :D.

  4. pjsandchocolatepjsandchocolate

    My problem lies in trying to find people who can critique without trashing. “This is wretched,” is just about as useful as “I liked it.” Neither one gives hard data, and while one can make you feel good (albeit frustrated) the other just makes you want to give up because all they can say is how much your work sucks, not what needs to be worked on.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Editing, beta reading and critique are a skill/art for sure. But, we do have to remember that reviewers can be cruel. Even if someone who looks at our work guts us, it’s private and prepares us for what is ahead. No matter how hard we try we will get jerks. J.K. Rowling has a POSTAGE stamp in her honor…but she also has more than her share of scathing one-star, hateful reviews. Thus, I believe everything is valuable even when it isn’t. Maybe the “I want to kill all your characters” doesn’t help us improve the writing, but it will help us toughen that skin.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      If you’re in a dialog with someone about your work — not, say, being randomly trashed or praised in an Amazon review — it can help to ask specific questions to elicit more useful feedback. Most non-writers don’t know the mechanics of what we do, nor should they be expected to know. You have to draw the specifics out of them.

      • pjsandchocolatepjsandchocolate

        I have tried to draw specifics out. Usually, all I get are shrugs or “It’s just crap. You need to throw it away.” And these are people who, before I even gave them the manuscript, I told “I need you to tell me, what you liked and didn’t like and WHY. Just saying ‘I liked it/hated it’ does not help me. I’d rather hear it from you first.” I’ve tried a broad demographic to find critiquers – from English teachers, computer professionals, car mechanics, fellow writers and teenagers. I’ve tried sit-downs with coffee and snacks for an after read breakdown. I’ve tried email. After 5 years, I have found 2 people that can actually critique, and even then, half the time it’s like pulling teeth from a chicken.

        • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

          The only good reply to someone who tells you, “It’s just crap” is “NEXT!”

        • Sarah BrentynSarah Brentyn

          Ha. 😀 “’This is wretched,’ is just about as useful as ‘I liked it.’” So true. When someone says “This is great.” or “I loved it.” I’m waiting for the rest… And waiting…

      • Les EdgertonLes Edgerton

        As far as criticism goes, I bow to the wisdom of Samuel Johnson, who said: “It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at only one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends.”

        Another great blogpost, Kristen, with lots of meat!

    • Elena LinvilleElena Linville

      My suggestion would be to find a good critique group either locally or online. I like critters.org for short stories (they have hundred of members so you get at least 5-10 reviews usually). You can also join Absolute Write Water-cooler or Scribophile where you can either post your work for review directly on the site or trying to find a beta to collaborate with.

  5. Elke FeuerElke Feuer

    Great post! I was fortunate enough to have my first critiques come from online. I could shake my fists at the computer screen, but couldn’t respond. It helped a lot, but didn’t prepare me for the face-to-face critique of my bff. WOW! Between her and the painful reviews on Amazon for my first book, my skin has toughened up nicely. I still have a long way to go, but I’m closer than I was two years ago and have learned some valuable lessons.

    Congrats on the book release, J.E.!

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Thanks. We can save ourselves some pain by being our own toughest critics. What complicates things is the matter of varied tastes. And, in some sense, the reader, like any customer, is always right. Even when it hurts.

      • Elke FeuerElke Feuer

        I agree, J.E.! That’s why I only respond to good reviews and don’t stalk or belittle readers who don’t like my work. Not everyone is going to enjoy what I write and that’s their right as a consumer.

        I figure if bestselling authors get bad reviews then I will too and will have to suck it up and focus my energy on improving my craft. 🙂

        • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

          Bestselling authors get bad reviews?! Books that are among the greatest classics get bad reviews!! See Melville, Herman.

  6. daphodilldaphodill

    Reblogged this on Daphodill's Garden and commented:
    I’m way behind on my blog reading, but I am so glad I clicked on this link in my inbox today. This article is right on time. I’ve been attempting to read and review some indie books and have gotten angry for the lack of professionalism some of these authors display through their writing and reception of constructive criticism. I’m re-blogging. This is such valuable information–lessons we all need to learn, regardless of what stage we are in the publishing process.

    Happy writing!!

  7. David Rheem JarrettDavid Rheem Jarrett

    This post is well worth reading. I’m not consciously doing anything to “toughen my skin” but neither am I adverse to criticism. My biggest problem is that I am by nature a loner, and do not enjoy participating in many groups. This makes finding critics difficult for me. My latest novel has had but one beta reader — my wife, and she is naturally prejudiced. I don’t know the ins and outs of having others read my works. If you were me, would you just hand the manuscript to a friend and have him or her read it, and repeat this process until you have some feedback? I am querying a few agents with this book, but, as you know, you rarely get constructive criticism from them unless one of them actually wants to represent your book.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      No, I wouldn’t rely on agents you’re soliciting for constructive criticism. I’ve found at times that it helps to share a manuscript with friends who are big readers. It can help them understand what you need if you give them a short list of questions, such as, “Was there anyplace in the book where you thought the narrative dragged?” or “Did you understand why the main character made the choices she made?”

    • Stephanie ScottStephanie Scott

      The terms are thrown around, but it’s a good idea to have a mix of readers. A beta reader is usually someone who is a fan of reading but not necessarily a writer. They are great for big picture stuff. Critique partners who are writers will probably look at your work differently. The best part of groups like this (MyWANA-Kristen’s network of writers) is there are so many ways to connect. You can be a loner and still have critique partners you may never meet in person. I would suggest starting with a chapter first, and through your networking see about trading pages with another writer with some specifics of what feedback you’re looking for. It’s scary but necessary!

  8. Shawn MacKENZIEShawn MacKENZIE

    Wise words. Hard as it might be, critique is essential, taking us out of our hermitic cocoons and into the real reader’s world. I try to go willingly, joyfully, rather than kicking and screaming but there are times… I find the more I crave criticism on a piece the thicker my skin. I feel positively draconic on occasion! There are also times I still feel like a fragile mayfly. I don’t know that it is a matter of professionalism so much as a certain raw-nerve quality that comes from pouring our life and blood into a piece. If I stand back from it, distance seems to help.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Sometimes we do resist because it feels like a baring of the soul, but I think there’s often a degree of laziness mixed in there. My first reaction to my editor’s objections is always anger (which I don’t express!) because, man, he just made more work for me and I was ready to move on to the next thing. It’s like you just came out of the primeval forest all scratched up and exhausted, holding forth the pelt of the dragon, and some guy says, “No, not THAT one.” And the prospect of going back in is daunting. But go back in we must!

      • Shawn MacKENZIEShawn MacKENZIE

        Indeed, we must. I can’t say I get angry, save with myself for not getting it right sooner.

      • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

        LOLOLOLOLOL. *head desk* Wrong dragon. Can I shoot you in the FACE now? LOLOLOLOLOL.

      • annedenisedupontannedenisedupont

        Now THAT paints the picture! However, I’m not sure I’d call it laziness. After all you did just slay a freaking dragon! LOL

  9. FarhaFarha

    Extremely insightful. I especially like the part of about looking for the source of the problem instead of an easy fix.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      That’s probably the single hardest thing. If I had to give storytellers (and myself) one piece of advice, it would be: Never take the path of least resistance.

  10. Melissa Yuan-InnesMelissa Yuan-Innes

    This tone of post reminds me of War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, which is a good thing.

    I remember sitting in my windowless basement apartment, in my first year of university, re-reading a Writers of the Future article by Karen Joy Fowler about developing that thick skin, that pachydermal skin of a writer. I’m still working on it. Beta readers don’t bother me anymore, but some reviewers still slay me. Which is why I try not to read reviews, unless someone else has screened them.

    I’ve written a few blog posts about rejection and one-star reviews, but the last time, my friend Kandy sent me this hilarious video: http://www.upworthy.com/a-song-to-play-every-time-you-see-a-sexist-racist-or-homophobic-comment-online?c=ufb1

  11. Kelly ByrneKelly Byrne

    Again, another timely post from the desk of Kristen Lamb. I just received my first one-star review on Amazon yesterday, so I guess I’m a real writer now! 😉 It was, however, oddly personal, which makes it slightly less easy to keep out from under my currently tissue paper thin skin, but I’m working on it.

    J.E. Fishman – thank you for your sage words. Especially those at the end. We’re all working on the aspects of “going pro”, but giving yourself space to be human and a work in progress is important too.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      If anyone knows that we’re all continuously in the process of becoming, it’s a novelist, right?

    • Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

      Ah, personal attacks. The last weapon of he who has no valid argument 🙂

  12. Sarah BrentynSarah Brentyn

    “…conflicting priorities”? Um, yes.

    “If we’re creating art, we owe our audience something, not the other way around.” So true.

    And, finally, “The work should be all we ever need to convince anyone of anything. It stands alone.” It stands all alone. How many times I’ve told my student this… When they whined to me about a grade saying “But I meant to say this” I asked if they wanted to hang out with me and commentate while I read their essay. Dude. You handed your paper in. I brought it home and read it. I took out my red pen (oh, YES, I did), and you weren’t there to explain what you “meant to say”. And it will always be like that with writing.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      The greatest sign of an amateur, I think, is thinking that an explanation off the page is helpful. It’s there or it ain’t, babe. No?

      • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

        I think that is true of the finished product. Once I have shipped, it’s done. Either I nailed it or I didn’t. But with beta readers and critique partners, I will take time to go, “Okay, THIS is what I wanted to accomplish. How did I blow it? What could I have done differently?” For instance, I recently sent out a mystery thriller for beta-reading. Seven loved it and one hated it. But when I took time to articulate to the one who razed me, “Hey, this was my goal. What, in your mind, went so wrong?” she gave AWESOME suggestions that were easy fixes and made a far stronger book. There were simply times I’d failed to translate what was in my head to the page and she nailed me.

        Thus, I do feel there is a fine line between being an argumentative amateur and being a pro who begs for the crucible and WANTS to know the truth even when it’s hard. “Where did I fail? Can you tell me HOW? Because I am too close and not seeing it.”

        • Sarah BrentynSarah Brentyn

          That is true, Kristen. I held peer editing groups for this purpose to get kids to realize that “what they meant” wasn’t on the paper–anywhere. They were there to tell the other students what they were trying to say so the feedback was instantaneous and spot-on because they had both writer and written word in front of them. But…once they handed in their final copy, the teacher (me) had to read what was written. So, to shorten this immensely, I agree. 🙂

      • Sarah BrentynSarah Brentyn

        It’s there or is isn’t. The End. 😉

  13. Charlie SheldonCharlie Sheldon

    This is a great post and very helpful. These are excellent rules, or should I say aspirations? I find myself wondering, will I ever be done, because each time I go back to something I see changes to be made.My skin became thicker when I heard from a few people that it is unrealistic to expect something to be liked by everyone, that if you have four or five out of ten who like a piece you’re doing great. I’m not sure I believe that, actually, too many years of being told to seek perfection, if you don’t get ten out of ten you’re a failure. But I’m a total newbie at this compared to others here so I am happy to learn. In my latest effort I found a terrific editor and I was happy to say to him, have at it, and in nearly every single case he improved what I had tried to do. Not sure I could have done that earlier.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      A good editor will always see things we can’t see ourselves. Regarding perfection, a guy I once worked on a project had a great line: Production before perfection.

  14. SPSP

    Love this blog. Great “pro” advice. A few, I’m on my way to mastering while a few, I’m still bumbling and fumbling with.

  15. swiveltamswiveltam

    Thank you. I love this. (Thanks for sharing J. E. with us Kristen)

    This is my fave; “A pro hears what is not said. The amateur too easily dismisses criticism that’s not expressed in the framework of how we think about our own craft. But the pro reads between the lines, asking herself what in the story caused the reader to have that reaction.”

    I cannot tell you how valuable a tool this has become. Its wonderful for query rejections and understanding and improving on what the rejection told you.

    A couple questions:

    I often wonder if workshopping a ms and hiring a pro-editor is enough? Do you think ALL writers should query to learn the strength of their ms? The reason I ask is, there are few people in my write’s group who think querying is a waste of time and their workshopped and copy-edited ms is professionally ready for self pub.

    That said, most of them HAVE published whereas I am still dallying with rewrites and queries.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      That’s a tough question. The gatekeepers, we all know, have at times proven themselves blind. On the other hand, one can sometimes tell a lot from the rejections that come back. Again, between the lines. If the rejections are about the marketplace, say, rather than the storytelling, that would tell you one thing. If, on the other hand, they all keyed in on some aspect of the story that’s not working, that tells you something else.

      Generally, in my experience, editors or agents are rationalizing their gut reactions, not really providing advice. And their imperatives might be a lot different — say, having to sell 20,000 hardcovers — than the self-pubbed author’s.

      • swiveltamswiveltam

        Something else I thought of, that got me fired up after reading your most excellent post, was how to GIVE criticism. I spent some time and put together my own advice for giving. I found that in our critique group there is a huge difference in the way critiques are presented.

  16. sharonhughsonsharonhughson

    What a perfect time for this post. In two weeks, I will send my first novel out to beta readers. I’m already rubbing sandpaper over my skin daily to toughen it up. I know the book is nowhere near perfect but it’s at the point where I need readers to tell me where it falls short.
    Yeah, I need readers. All of us do. I also needed to read this post. Thank you both.

  17. Jaye GarlandJaye Garland

    Reblogged this on ~ Jaye's Days ~ and commented:
    Criticism – think like a pro: 9 Points from J.E. Fishman via Kristen Lamb’s blog.

  18. ontyrepassagesontyrepassages

    Cruel criticism is a reflection of them, not me, and should be ignored. Constructive criticism is an invaluable opportunity to learn. That doesn’t mean it’s painless, of course. Elvis cut himself off from criticism and it cost him his life. I suspect Michael Jackson did the same thing. Communication is a two-way street and when you cut it off on one end you’ve effectively cut it off completely.

    • swiveltamswiveltam

      i agree and find sometime writers, friends and beta readers can become high-handed in their efforts to “help.” I think part of developing that thick skin is also learning how to separate the personal attack kind of criticism, from the true, needs improvement criticism. Love this discussion!

  19. HeatherHeather

    Thanks for the architect shout out. Being an Intern, and a professional working my way towards that end, I was reading your post and thinking, I look at my architecture projects as clients. They pay for my services. They want their views expressed through design in a cost-effective way. Very rarely to we get ‘the ideal client’ who lets us do what we want to do. And quite frankly, while they pay us for our expertise, they do not pay us to do what we want willy-nilly. And we’ll hear about it when we mess up (structure, finish, leaks). And this can drastically affect our professional reputations.

    So maybe, we needs to start looking at readers not as a mass of people who will read our works because “they’re brilliant,” but maybe we need to look at them as clients. Clients who pay $1, $5, $10 or $20 for our expertise, even if our expertise is creating a fictional world they want to live in for a short time. Some clients will love what we do. Some won’t. But we need to respect them if they are paying for it, especially since readers tend to be vocal about it in very public places, like Amazon and Goodreads.

    But maybe I’m taking this thought too far? Thoughts?

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      As with the consumption of any creative “product,” one has to distinguish between matters of competence and matters of taste. The building might not please me aesthetically but may still function, which is proof of its competence. The same with the structure of a story.

  20. Mira PrabhuMira Prabhu

    Great points – thanks Kristen and JE Fishman! I write metaphysical (eastern spiritual) fiction and its particularly hard for me to deal with criticism from folks who know nothing about the subject but who think they do — for instance, kundalini is a “real” phenomenon in the eastern world and treated with awe, but many who don’t know this think I’m writing fantasy…however, I’m no longer as prickly as I was…which is amazing in itself. It’s a privilege being able to read these posts – thanks again.

  21. SaraSara

    I like to think I can take criticism like a pro but I’m having problems finding readers that stick with me. I have a hard time finding readers period. But I’m wondering if my nature is offending them. I explain that what I like to do is have discussions so I can see where the problems lie. For example, one reader told me that she didn’t understand why a character got ice instead of turning on the air conditioner in a scene. So I replied by explaining that where I live it’s not uncommon to not have a/c. Then she stopped talking to me.
    I told her ahead of time that I like a sort of back and forth so I can see where I need to make corrections. There were several issues with that scene but I couldn’t necessarily see what they were without talking about. I know now because I’ve talked about the scene with others and can see where it feels unnatural.
    In the end, the character had to get ice so they could meet another character for a particular set-up so I couldn’t dump the scene but I could see where I needed to make corrections. I just didn’t know how from her comment.
    It was like she was offended I questioned her critique. While I was, it wasn’t because she was wrong.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      One has to be careful not to appear to be arguing with a reader. There’s really no percentage in that kind of relationship, even if you didn’t intend it.

      • SaraSara

        Never thought of it that way. Perhaps I don’t come off clearly. Unfortunately all the communication was via email so intent is hard to portray. I may have to reconsider how I respond in the future.

  22. Tamara LeBlancTamara LeBlanc

    I normally have a nice Rhino hide, nothing bothers me, as far as criticism is concerned. But a few years ago I actually cried like a baby in Panera when my crit partners critiqued a synopsis I had thought should win a Pulitzer…after the tears dried and I blew my nose a few hundred times I realized they were right, the 5 pages I’d given them would be better used as toilet paper.
    Loved this, Kristen!
    have a great afternoon,

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Funny how what we at first think is our best work turns out to be our worst. That’s one reason why it’s critical in the rewrite phase to go after self-conscious writing like a heat-seeking missile.

  23. symplysilentsymplysilent

    Hi Kristen and JE; Now I will wonder all day long, is it John or James or Jacob? Your article was wonderful.

    I never thought about the rights of the reader. I think you are saying that, once I finish my first draft or two, and open the door to First Readers and Beta Readers, I am giving up some of my rights as the author. And, when I finish and go to the publish, the readers have all the rights.

    Thank you for helping me see something so obvious. Silent

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      I think storytellers are in a contract with their readers, which begins with certain aspects of storytelling but also extends to the whole book. So, yes, in that way the reader has “rights.” But on the J, I remain silent.

      • symplysilentsymplysilent

        No fair…but the internet is vast…and much data is out there.

        • Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

          Jablonsky? No – what author would miss the chance to use a name as SEO-friendly as that?

  24. naomibellinanaomibellina

    Yep, I’m slathering on the lotion to thicken my skin. I just sent my story to beta readers and always have to take several deep breaths when I get a critique back. Thanks for the great article. Nice to know I’m not alone.

  25. Rhenna MorganRhenna Morgan

    A wonderful topic! For me, the hardest part is in the evaluation of the feedback I’m given. As a devout rule follower (often at my own peril), I take everything everyone says as gospel…which makes for a very confused writer. I’ve found the way that works for me is to find the sources of critique/guidance that resonate with who I want to be in the future and HEED THEIR WORDS. When I gain feedback from others outside my inner circle, I try to process it through them to gain consistency. If that makes any sense…

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      At the end of the day, we all need to balance criticism with keeping our own counsel. We can’t just blow with the wind. An old agent of mine used to say that you know criticism is right the moment you hear it. I have had this experience when my editor points something out and I realize, oops, didn’t get away with that, did I? The more you write and receive criticism, the more you learn what rings true for you.

  26. janmoran1janmoran1

    It’s often said, write the book of your heart. But the heart can be a messy affair; it needs the head to guide it. Thanks for parting the curtain and allowing people to see how professional authors work. Like you, my first edit by a pro was devastating. Today, I welcome the opportunity to have my work lifted higher. A pro strives for excellence, no matter what field they’re in. Great article, J.E. and Kristen, thanks.

    • annedenisedupontannedenisedupont

      Well said! The heart is indeed a messy affair. If we don’t write from the heart, the work is flat. If we write from the heart, we risk emotional pain. I can only pray that, like you, I will one day be able to welcome the opportunity instead of fearing it.

  27. Kathleen MaherKathleen Maher

    I love writing and will keep doing all I can to improve my writing as long as I’m physically and mentally capable. For seven years I wrote a serial fiction blog. Once or twice a reader came upon a piece in the middle and asked a question that hadn’t occurred to me. Those were big moments for me but they happened in the first few years. Past that, my writing elicited no comments, despite fluctuating stats that included about a dozen faithful readers.
    All along, my husband has edited what I write. He writes fiction but makes his living as a business writer and editor. He’s almost always right about my writing. I rarely even pause, making the changes he suggests.
    Of course, everything I write could and should be better. Eventually, though, I finish a novel, especially if my husband happens to pull it out of storage, reads it, and laughs throughout. (Although, I don’t write humor, per se. I’m quirky.)
    Still, amateur, professional–I don’t care about ranking–I’ve yet to interest more than a handful of readers. I worry about this, past the simple frustration, because for me a work of fiction is not finished until readers bring their perspective and life experiences to the story. I put up an e-book last year. “Diary of a Heretic.” A few reviewers delighted me, seeing aspects that never occurred to me! The End. (It seems.) I aim for more readers but do not know how to reach them.

  28. richardperthrichardperth

    How do you find a good editor/critic? My editors have said good things about my book: “original and compelling” “a great book” “wow” That leaves me with the feeling that they’re trying to be nice instead of critical.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Maybe it’s perfect. Nah, just kidding. We know that nothing is.

      It’s encouraging, in a way, that you aren’t satisfied with their criticism. It took me a while to learn that I had to be my own toughest critic. And even after that, there’s always room for improvement.

  29. icescreammamaicescreammama

    I’ll admit taking criticism is hard for me, but right now I’m having a harder time finding readers who will actually critique.

  30. Laurie A WillLaurie A Will

    Great post!
    “In my experience, professionals are not easily satisfied by their own work, whereas amateur writers take a degree of pride in their work that’s often not commensurate with the accomplishment.”
    I loved this line! It made think of my evolution of learning the craft. Many times I would finish a draft of my WIP and think, “This is it! This is brilliant.” I don’t not what kept me from submitting or querying, intuition perhaps. Then I would learn more and go back and reread my novel and realize it needed more work. I still have plenty to learn. Hopefully I am at the point that I will be able to recognize when my work it ready for publication and to know when enough is enough because it will never be perfect. The other side of the coin is after we’ve learned to accept other people’s criticism, we need to learn how to take our own and no when we’ve taken a piece as far as it will go. Because certainly one could edit the same piece of work indefinitely.

  31. lindaraesalindaraesa

    I just posted this to a writing group on FB where a few complain about bad reviews – we can all use a reminder about how to take criticism.

  32. Kathryn GoldmanKathryn Goldman

    I particularly like “A pro separates the work from himself.” I’ve been practicing law for over 25 years and I think I’ve just learned how to do that one.

    I would add another. “A pro respects other people’s time.” As in, don’t waste other people’s time unless you’re paying them by the hour. Engage in the exchange, be concise, say thank you and move along.

  33. annedenisedupontannedenisedupont

    Such great and timely advice! I am gearing up for my first writer’s conference in May and am beginning to see that, though I started out as an amateur, I began to feel that I wanted to present my work as a pro. This is what has caused me so much anxiety of late.

    Part of it is due to my “day job” of 20ish years: graphic designer. I accept criticism on an hourly basis of my graphic design work, most of which I feel is pretty wrongheaded. I present something that I feel has a nice balance, flow, etc. But the client wants the logo to be REALLY PROMINENT or something that totally destroys the layout.

    I have no problem taking this type of criticism and insistence that my work be changed, because I don’t really have an emotional connection to someone’s newspaper ad or email blast. I can say “Oh well, not everything is a portfolio piece,” and move on, unscathed.

    But my story is like my heart on a platter. I know I have to overcome this feeling or I’ll never be able to survive being a pro. I’m almost tempted to write something else that I don’t care as much about and present that instead so everyone can get all the requisite “tweaking” of my work out of their systems before I try to publish the real deal!

    My sense is that the first time around it’s going to be like being hazed in a fraternity.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Be like the Buddha and practice detachment. Your story is not your heart on a platter. Even at its most perfect, it’s just one imperfect representation of that heart.

  34. FreyaFreya

    Leaving the ego behind is definitely a huge step for the amateur who is becoming a professional. We need to love our work in order to pour our passion into it, but equally we also need to treat our writing like a business rather than a hobby. Once I made that step, I found it easier to accept criticism. But it’s certainly not easy!

  35. Helen LandalfHelen Landalf

    What an excellent post! I felt good reading it, because I can see how I’ve grown in how I approach criticism. As you said, at the beginning, I only wanted to hear that my work was flawless; now I actively seek out critical feedback that will help me make my story match my vision of what it could be.

  36. Stephanie ScottStephanie Scott

    Great post!

  37. L. D. SwordL. D. Sword

    Such a great post – thank you. My transition to pro is still a work in progress but I’ve come far enough to share this story for your amusement. One of my amateur flaws was as simple as not understanding what ‘voice’ meant. For a brief time, until I got this sorted out, I saw critiques as someone not getting my voice. It turns out I was correct in that assessment of the feedback. The critic couldn’t understand my voice because I didn’t write in it very well. 🙂

  38. M. ZieglerM. Ziegler

    I’ve grown a lot from my first experience with an editor. It was painful, but in the end I am a better writer and know what to expect. Now I scratch my head when I don’t get a lot of criticism; I expect the worst and am excited when the reality is better. With each edit or critique your writing can improve. Great blog topic.

  39. Peter KoevariPeter Koevari

    This is a fantastic article, full stop, but it does bring to bear some things for me. First and foremost, I always love to get feedback… heck, I crave it, and with the most intense of my critics, I try to enlist them as proofreaders.

    That is all well and good, but there’s a downside to it all. I love telling stories, and I’m sure you can all understand that passion, and I love to help people. Sadly, in a lot of cases I’ve encountered, people love to dish out criticism, but absolutely can’t handle it if their own work is criticised.

    This can destroy relationships built on trust, where one person expects nothing but honesty, and the other person gives it, but when honesty is returned… all of a sudden they run away from the relationship or feel offended by it. It isn’t the case with everyone, but it happens… a lot.

    And the proofreaders that we count on, can dissipate so quickly. It saddens me when that happens, as I build a friendship with proofreaders/crit-partners. These days, I find myself looking at a list of names that I know, won’t be able to help me anymore. I need to find solid proofreaders, and continually rebuild a list of people who read my work.

    I read my reviews, heck… I ask for a lot of reviews, and I ask for nothing but absolute honesty. Among my 100+ reviews of my published books, there are a good handful of downright haters. Some of the reviews are so caught up in flexing their own muscles, that I don’t pull anything decent out of the review, except to read comments that are designed to have a crack at me as an author, and not my work, per se. Luckily, I don’t get many of these, but when I do… I’d love to say that it doesn’t affect me at all, but it does.

    We are human, with emotions and feelings. Yes, we separate ourselves from our work, but our work can not be 100% separated from us. We pour our sweat, blood, and tears into our work, so how can something so emotional, be looked at so coldly when someone rips it apart?

    For me, I can totally handle the worst of criticisms, so long as it’s about my work, delivery, story, etc. But when the claws are out at me as a writer, or as a person, that becomes a whole different world of feedback. For example, I chose Latin as the language of spells in my books. One hating reviewer wrote a heck of a long tirade about how lazy I was as an author, how poor of a choice it was, and that I should have used Elven, like Tolkien. I wonder how many of you may be laughing at the suggestion, because it’s suggesting I plagiarise, but it’s having a go.

    For those of you on Goodreads, you can find those reviews of my work pretty easily, and they will stand out like tits on a bull. Then you get other haters who LIKE the reviews written by the haters that share their opinion, just to add insult to injury.

    I grit my teeth and smile, to say thank you to those haters, for taking the time to read my book and write what tends to be an extensive review. I shake my head, wipe off the blood splatters on my skin, and move on with confidence… because it’s a few voices, not a chorus.

    There are the few of those negative reviews, that make me go, hey… there’s some substance here, and I appreciate those ones. Heck, people don’t realise that I read every single word, in every single review of my work online. Why? Not because I judge my work on the thoughts of others, but I’m sure that we all want to see what our readers think, loved about our books, didn’t like about our books, and how we can learn from that.

    Most of my readers like or love my books, and for that I am thankful. Their chorus of criticisms are very much heard, and I’ve done rewrites of my novels to attempt to address that chorus, and strengthen my books for future readers. Heck, I’m in the middle of rewriting my second book for just that reason.

    Peter Koevari

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Sounds like you have a pretty healthy attitude. As for the haters, well, we all know that it’s more about them than about your work.

  40. Janet Walden-WestJanet Walden-West

    My first critiques were all online as opposed to in person, so I could nibble at them in small bites, peeking through my fingers horror-movie style. That and the fact that they were presented as “Here are some issues. I know you can address them.” as opposed to “this sucks/I hated it/don’t do this again” created my emotional response to critiques. Now, I fidget and drum my fingers until the criticisms roll in and I can see what needs improvement.
    It also let me start to differentiate between valid criticisms and overtly biased, personal remarks. “Watch your pacing in the second chapter ” is helpful. “This is a ridiculous jumble of words”, not so helpful.
    Not to say I don’t have moments where I stalk around muttering under my breath so I don’t traumatize the kids and dogs 🙂

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Actually, “This is a ridiculous jumble of words” doesn’t sound that unhelpful to me. A little pointed, though.

  41. Healthy HarrietHealthy Harriet

    Thank you for this excellent piece. A great deal of what you say applies to criticism in sphères other than writing too. Separation of oneself from one’s work and taking ego out of the equation are difficult to achieve, but critical to learning in all sorts of situations.

  42. AGentleandQuietSpiritAGentleandQuietSpirit

    I’m going to share this with my writing group. We have a range of new writers and more experienced writers. It will be a good refresher before we start swapping work.

  43. Rebecca MeyerRebecca Meyer

    I need to take this blog post’s advice. It can be difficult at times to separate ourselves from our work. Writing is such an emotional art form that we may take criticism personally.

  44. saralitchfieldsaralitchfield

    Awesome timing – the beta feedback on my first MS is incoming… Putting my pro face on 🙂

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  46. sabrinawolfheartsabrinawolfheart

    I think many authors suffer from M.W.I.P. syndrome—that is “My Work Is Perfect.” It’s very important to remember that, while others may not understand what we are trying to say with our work, their critiques will help us understand what needs to be conveyed better and what has been conveyed well. And it’s also very important not to argue or talk back when someone tries to give you an idea; after all, they are only trying to help. And new ideas always help a story.

  47. adstarrlingadstarrling

    Wonderful post. And very true.

    “A pro respects roles.” I think I’m there.

    “A pro separates the work from himself.” I still find this hard.

    “A pro seeks opportunities to learn from criticism.” I think I’m definitely there with this one. Each book I’ve written has been praised by my editors for being “better” than the last one. I’m glad I’m continuing improve and hope to carry on doing so for decades to come.

    “A pro looks for the source of the problem, not easy fixes.” Getting there.

    “A pro hears what is not said.” Never really thought about this one before.

    “A pro accepts challenges.” Getting there.

    “A pro never argues, never rebuts.” All over that one! 😉

    “A pro doesn’t belittle the messenger.” Ditto!

    “Finally, a pro knows that all the aspects I’ve outlined here are aspirational. None of us is perfect at them.” I keep reminding myself of that every day.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  48. artfullyadelieartfullyadelie

    What an enlightening post. Being a complete amateur, this gave me a lot to contemplate. After having my book “done” for over a year, I know it’s my fear of criticism that’s holding me back from taking the next step. I’ve never had thick skin, but reading that other writers, even seasoned ones, still struggle with criticism from time to time is very comforting. I need to remind myself to approach criticism as an opportunity for improvement, as opposed to a blow to my self-esteem. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  49. TyreanTyrean

    Making invaluable use of a critique partner or two, a writing group, and submitting my short works on a regular basis definitely toughens my skin, although I still have my pity party moments. I just try to keep those to myself. I admit I don’t take the “that just sucks” critique well – especially when no details are offered. I have a tendency to walk away shaking my head. However, detailed critique is great! I appreciate all the hard work and effort someone has put into it.

  50. Glynis JollyGlynis Jolly

    J. E., You are so right on all of your points. I think this way of thinking can go beyond the pro though. I’m on my first big writing project. I’ll be welcoming any feedback when I get past my first draft. I want the naked truth. Of course, if possible, I’d also like some advice to go along with that feedback.

  51. RobbRobb

    Great post. Thanks, J.E. and Kristen. As a longtime editor (in journalism and books) and writer, my skin has gotten about as thick as the snow is deep here in Wisconsin. Doesn’t mean a criticism still might not sting a little at times, but I’m always grateful someone took the time to read something I’ve written, and then take the time to comment. I’ve gotten my manuscripts back from editors and thought, “I wish they would have criticized it more so I’d know how to make it better.”

    Love the line in the post that if you have to explain something off-page, it didn’t work for that reader. Took me a few years to learn that it wasn’t a dense reader who was unable to pick up on the subtleties of my brilliant prose, it was my dense writing that didn’t convey to the reader what I wanted to say.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Yeah, always easier to blame the reader, isn’t it? Sounds like you know as well as I that if you do that too often you’ll end up in a lot of blind corners.

  52. CrowhillCrowhill

    Excellent article! I think the fundamental lesson every human being needs to learn is “get over yourself,” but that is especially true for writing. “Get over your own opinion about your writing.” You’ve done a great job expanding on that concept.

  53. Janelle LeonardJanelle Leonard

    Exactly! I’ve been saying for years, to other writers (and myself), “Your worth does NOT hinge on your writing.” It’s refreshing to hear someone else say it for a change. Thanks!

  54. Tawnya YorkTawnya York

    This blog post has been very beneficial to me. Thank you for sharing it Kristin. I saw some things I have been denying to myself, but now understand what my writing group is talking about. I can’t post back to my blog yet because it is having difficulties, but I still want to thank you for sharing this post.

  55. Peter NenaPeter Nena

    Once, in 2006, I took a manuscript to a publisher, one of whose rules is that if the manuscript is bad the writer must be sent back with it. She criticized my work while I was seated opposite her. She was ruthless to the story. I felt awful. I felt angry. Needless to say she sent me back with the manuscript. It was a short story and I’d worked on it for a month. Later, however, mulling over the things she had said, the questions she had asked concerning my work, I realized she had been right. She had been very right. From then on, I search for critics. I would pay somebody just to do it before I go to the publisher with my work. I am, nowadays, wary of readers who praise my writing without question anything in the story, telling me it is wonderful, clever, intriguing, beautiful, etc. Critics are good for a writer. Not those malevolent, book-murdering, jealous-sounding lot. A good critic is objective. He focuses on the story not the writer. He understands that the book, even if poorly written, may have taken the writer months and years to accomplish. He respects the effort, the dedication, the passion.
    Thanks, Kristen Lamb, for sharing this intelligent article with us.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Good for you, Peter. And it is a rare jewel to find a strong editor/critic. But I am thrilled you see their worth. Will put you light years ahead of your grape-skinned competition 😀 .

  56. ayesha4827ayesha4827

    writing is another form of self expression it does’nt matter how you do it as long as you are able to get the message conveyed

  57. Kristen LucianiKristen Luciani

    I have a pretty thin skin, so the mere thought of rejection makes me cringe. I think I take critiques to my writing so personally because my ideas are being critiqued. I created what I think is such a fabulous work of art, spent hours and hours and HOURS perfecting it only to find out that an “expert” in the field has a difference of opinion. This happened to me several times in the past couple of years. But like readers, editors have specific tastes and it’s impossible to please the masses.

    This time around, I am much more prepared! My mom always used to tell me, not everyone in your life will love you like I do. Always helps to keep perspective. =)

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Maybe rather than thinking you spent hours “perfecting” it….think that you spent hours “improving” it. The language we speak to ourselves is important. If we believe something is perfect, the door is closed to feedback.

      • Kristen LucianiKristen Luciani

        Interesting observation. Maybe I’ve taken the principle of positive reinforcement a bit too far. I’m so busy trying to convince my subconscious how fantastic my book is that I’m actually hindering my progress. Hmmm…

  58. ET (Liz) Crowe (@beerwencha2)ET (Liz) Crowe (@beerwencha2)

    I must say this is coming at a VERY important time for me. I am breaking out of the mold that has been formed around my currently published books and and pushing the envelope creatively speaking with 2 new novel projects. One has been Beta’d and got torn down a bit–the FIRST time this has happened to me, which means “keep those Beta readers, they are serious.” I will admit I did internalize it but only for about, oh, 30 minutes. Then I got busy revising. Now, the manuscript is with what I would consider a “professional editor,” a guy that I am 100% terrified of even AFTER he spent a month forcing me to break all my writing bad habits in order to take what he called a “killer concept” from concept to reality in the form of a 99,000 word literary fiction novel with elements of a thriller, a mystery, a dash of “dystopia” in as much as you consider a fictional Revived Detroit in 2025″ as “dystopia with a theme of reproductive rights/corporate control of the media issues.

    He now has it in his hands. He says things like “you have talent, this will be fun.” but I know as surely as I know my own shoe size this is going to be THE most BRUTAL editing session ever. But I am one of those writers who, after making the “lama face” for a while after every edit no matter what, I learn and change and get better. I tell newbies: “you are only as good as your next hard edit. Period. Don’t kid yourself.” I am now changing that to say “You are not a professional until you accept your next hard edit with a smile and a nod and a pot of coffee.”

    Kristen, as always you have brought me something new to ponder as I bite what remain of my nails down to the quick waiting for the Red Pen of Doom to Speak and tell me what needs rewriting, revising or tossed out the window for the big project #1 of 2014!


  59. jorgekafkazarjorgekafkazar

    How true it is! A couple of years ago, I had the temerity to criticize a Western novelist’s fight sequence told in tedious step-by-step detail, with microscopic precision, punctuated by an occasional “swiftly…” or “with fantastic quickness…” to give the illusion of being an action scene, I presume. The writer took the large economy box of umbrage and asked me, “Have YOU ever been in a barroom brawl?” I’m sorry to say I blurted out something roughly to the effect that I didn’t give an aerobatic assignation whether the writer had or had not done so, the piece was incredible in the worst possible sense.

  60. Kelly RobertsKelly Roberts

    It has taken me ages to thicken my skin. It’s no where near alligator but much further from newborn mouse.

    Actually, the thing that’s grown isn’t the thickness of my skin but the length of the pause between when I hear a bit of criticism, and when I open my mouth or my fingers hit the keyboard. I’ve got it up to a few seconds to maybe a whole minute, which is just enough time for me to put the petulant child in the closet and then respond. And the go-to response I strive for? “Thank you.”

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Personally, I have to let serious criticism marinate for a while. Unless, of course, I’m on deadline!

  61. Diana BeebeDiana Beebe

    Awesome post! I will be forever grateful to one of my grad school professors who taught me how to take and give constructive criticism. He had a way of ripping apart a story in the most thoughtful and loving way without holding back. I often compared my initial reaction to his feedback as having my heart removed with a spoon and then wanting him to do it again. LOL.

    He expected his students to be honest and kind in the process of giving suggestions to improve a story. The key was that it’s the story that’s being worked on, not the person who wrote it. The writer can take or leave the suggestions as needed for the story.

    • J. E. FishmanJ. E. Fishman

      Yes, exactly, the story being worked on, not the writer. Much CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is given out of love.

  62. JT BockJT Bock

    Thank you for taking the time to share these insights. This is a wonderful post and couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m fortunate to have a great set of beta readers and critique partners who don’t hold back in their criticisms but also explain what works and what doesn’t. That is the key to being constructive and helping each other become better writers. I will continue to improve with each book and challenge myself. I’m proud of my debut book but there are a lot places where I could’ve made the story and world building stronger. We are works in progress along with our stories. As a new published author, I’ve been struggling with negative reviews and what I can learn from them. I am a people pleaser, and it hurts me to know that I disappointed someone. There are some reviews where it was obvious that my book was not their type of story or they didn’t even read past the first few pages. Negative reviews that totally contradicted positive reviews where one reviewer saw my heroine as strong and another as weak. One reader saw my characters as flat and another deep and realistic. Readers have varying tastes so I’m grateful for my critique partners who are a sounding board when I get these reviews to see if there is anything I can take away from them. However, the best advice I received was to ignore reviews and just focus on writing and creating quality stories. But in this digital age, it’s hard not to get distracted and want to know how you rate with readers—and be hurt by it—especially when a reader’s negative opinion can be seen by thousands of people. Sometimes it seems my self worth gets tied into the reviews that I receive, which is definitely not healthy. That is where I struggle and want to improve. 😉

    Again, thank you for this helpful post. I wish you the best.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Fabulous to MEET you. And yes, we can NEVER write the “perfect” book. So just keep writing. Books by committee are UGLY.

  63. Julie Musil (@juliemusil)Julie Musil (@juliemusil)

    I must be a professional then, because I’m not easily satisfied with my work. I have a wonderful beta reader. I study each of her notes, no matter how small. If something caused her to pause in the story, I must figure out why. This was such a great post. Thanks!

  64. StanislavaStanislava

    Excellent article. We all aspire to be greater and to learn not only from our own, but hopefully from the mistakes of people who were in our shoes before us.

    At the beginning, I think no one knows how to handle a criticism, even if it is well meant one. I sure wasn’t. I thought of my novel just as good, if not better then … ( fill in the blank anyone on a New York Time Bestseller list ). In my mind back then, I was absolutely positive that I will be on that list in no time.

    And as the time passed and I got slowly pulled down to earth, I started to listen what others were trying to tell me.

    After a while, however, I got pulled the other direction, falling into a pit of despair over the lack of writing talent.

    It definitely took me a while to find the middle ground, not rejecting criticism or taking it so personally, it created a writing block.

    I wish a good luck to everyone, who goes down the path of a writer. It is road full of weeds, thorns and false paths along way. But if you stick to it and survive the ups and downs, there is no sweeter reward at the end than seeing your finished work being celebrated and shared by many.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      But the weeds an thorns will give us staying power. Nothing handed to us is valued. I feel tough times SUCK, but there is a treasure in the trial.

  65. KarenKaren

    Thank you so much for this. By day I am a private investigator in insurance fraud claims and have developed a think skin because people are defensive for a reason – they’re usually guilty. But when it comes to writing, and its broad subjectiveness, I struggle with thin skin. Thanks for showing the steps on how to get thicker skin. I will retweet this link.

  66. beautyiznaturalbeautyiznatural

    Thank you for your post from J.E. Fishman. I am a new, amateur writer with future plans to be published. The steps you explained in your post were very informative specifically for me who is new to blogging. I am person who has always been thick skinned but know that I have ventured out into the world I will see just how thick skinned I am. Thank you again

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      We grow. We are artists and we DO have feelings, but some of the harshest advice is also some of the best. It’s the narrow path and the faster road to success.

  67. Raani YorkRaani York

    You know, I think the criticism is what really scares me. I know I’m FAR, FAR away from taking it like a pro. I don’t take it well at all…

  68. terencekuchterencekuch

    If a reader says “I didn’t like that story,” well, that’s fine. Even if all of them say that. What hurts is when they make comments that show they didn’t “get it” — but of course it’s the writer’s (=my) fault if they don’t understand my story!

  69. LisLis

    My response (or, er, reaction) to criticism is situational. In addition to my blog and creative writing, I also write at my day job. At work, I can easily overlook the critical aspect to see what the goal is and how what I’m producing helps the company meet that goal. But my other writing, the personal stuff – it’s much harder to have a thick skin with it because I didn’t just pour hard work into it, I poured my soul into it… I’m a newer writing and I’m still learning – but it’s very comforting to know that even the seasoned writers struggle with this. Keeping this post as a little reminder.

  70. eirianseirians

    Thank you so much, I like to think I’m a lot better at taking criticism than I actually am.. But we all need practice.

  71. Erin BartelsErin Bartels

    Reblogged this on A Beautiful Fiction and commented:
    This post on professionalism in writing is so good, I had to share it with you. The perfect follow-up to my post on beta readers. What do you do with that criticism you hope to receive? Read on…

  72. unsaintlyunsaintly

    I love this post. I find the hardest part is when you get the trolls that want to bring your work down just go bring it down. It is, especially from another writer, the worst part about what we do. Knowing the tedious hours we put into it, it’s comparable to standing outside the museum of art and giving a critique of what’s inside based on the flyer. It’s hard not to get fired up. Then add to that someone walking up to them and saying, “hey why not go in and look at it before you critique their work” and then all their friends running up and giggling, pointing fingers, and taunting them.

    It’s something I didn’t expect to encounter as a writer. I expected readers to be more intelligent and keen with their ideas and insight. I personally look forward to hearing the critique. I love other people’s ideas!

  73. Ravi BediRavi Bedi

    Those who offer critiques may not always be good writers, and the reverse is also true. I read a novel by a pro (She had published my first book and then rejected all five submissions in a row), and believe me, it was all crap. Everybody cannot tell a good story.
    I’ve also read a lot of so-called “Best Sellers”. It was waist of money and time.
    If you want an honest review of your work from someone who can tell a good story, send me your PDF. I won’t give any false applause.

  74. Ravi BediRavi Bedi

    Oops! Read waste.
    It happens all the time.

  1. In Which the Pros Take Criticism | The Quill, The Key, and the Compass
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  5. Everyone's a Critic: How to Be the One Everyone Wants » The Girl In The Jitterbug Dress
  7. Short Saturday: The Last Word on Professionalism

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