Process – How to Handle Criticism

fountain penYou did it! You wrote your story, your novel, or your article. It’s your baby. It feels like one, because it’s a creative venture. Especially in the area of fiction, we writers become anxious, nervous, and worried about what future editors and readers will think, don’t we? We gather up our courage and send it off to a contest, critique group or partner, like I did this spring.

My scores came back from three judges in my genre. I was nowhere near making any kind of cut. Out of a possible 100 each, only two out of three scores were even above fifty percent. The one score below was the toughest to take. The judge said they had a hard time finding anything positive to say about my entry.

Gee whiz! And I’ve already spent well over a year writing, editing, having it professionally edited by a published author. The first chapter had been changed several times and the first page alone had been edited twice by the best my writing school had to offer. Was it that bad?

I’ll admit I was discouraged for a while by this judge’s comments. The criticism made me sound like I had never written anything before for publication or elsewhere – like I was a rank beginner who was just like all other beginners – predictable in my ignorance.

But I have to say, after giving it time, I could revisit the comments by that critical judge and try to understand how they were trying to help me – because they were. I also have to admit that I’ve suffered what psychologists would call Rejection Syndrome. Church circles use Root of Rejection. I’ve healed a lot from it, but sometimes, criticism still hurts. What can we do? How can we properly handle criticism – just or unjust? I have some ideas.


How to Handle Criticism

  1. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Look at yourself objectively. You may feel like a worm now, but know you are valued. It’s not meant to be insult. It’s not rejecting you as a person. Get over the hurt. Release it and let it go.
  2. This critique has been given to help you. Realize that any criticism, unless it is given in anger, is usually for your benefit – to help you. Who’s giving the critique or criticism? Is it someone who knows what they’re talking about? If so, accept and absorb it. It may be hard to welcome and embrace now, but…
  3. Give it time. What hurts now probably won’t in a few weeks. If you have that luxury of waiting until you are in a better frame of mind, do so. Because time can help you distance yourself from those first emotions of hurt.
  4. Look at your work objectively, because that’s how they saw it. Unless you have enemies that you know of, realize that you’re prejudiced about your work. It’s almost like being in love. You don’t see the warts, the imperfections, or the weaknesses. But a critique partner, a contest judge, or a writing mentor will. They’re objective because even though two of three of those mentioned do know you, they can also be objective. It’s not their baby, it’s yours.

How to Handle Unjust or Prejudicial Criticism

Occasionally, we are exposed to unjust or criticism with prejudice. How should we respond to this? We would probably respond in anger, because the giver is possibly offering it with prejudice or with anger themselves.

Should we defend ourselves? Hurl insults back? Give it to them like they’re giving it to us?


As to defending yourself, it depends on the situation. If someone truly dislikes you, they will be ultra-critical of your work. Look at their life? Could this dislike be jealousy, envy, or something else?

Generally speaking, respond to unjust criticism with humility, not debasing yourself, but try to defuse a hot situation.

It’s hard though. We rise to our own defense sometimes when defense isn’t necessary. Maybe we should just defuse the situation, like defusing a bomb – carefully and quietly.

I told a writing mentor of mine recently of how I had revisited the criticism I’d found so hurtful before – but now found it helpful. The criticism hadn’t changed, but my response had. She replied, “Not many writers can look at edits and critiques objectively – and you were smart to wait.”

That’s what it boils down to. I was once told how I responded to tests would determine my future. Wow. That puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?

What will your future be? What would you like it to be? Leave a comment and let me know.

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