Do you know why it hurts? Criticism stings, and it can sting even more for writers as it relates to something we made. Something that may be deeply personal, or that we feel very protective of. But then again, as Aristotle taught us:
“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
For a writer, as for all creative people, doing nothing is not really an option. We have to create, and we have to put our creations up for public scrutiny, therefore we’ll receive negative feedback, bad reviews and harsh criticism. It’s the nature of the beast, and there’s nothing we can do about that. But we can do something about how we react, and what we do when we feel attacked.
This is why I’m dedicating about 30 of my Writer’s Wednesday articles to talk about critique and reviews, and how we can see them as opportunities for growth and turn them into content for marketing purposes.
In previous posts, we’ve talked about how critique can make you feel stressed and uncomfortable. This is probably one of the reasons why most people don’t sign up for scrutiny unless they absolutely have to. And sometimes not even then, as a lot of self-published books still bear witness of.
Sometimes we may ask someone we trust to be our critique partner, but they are not necessarily the most reliable sounding board. People who love and care for us have a tendency to look at everything we do with rose-tinted glasses and tell us it’s fantastic. Even when it’s demonstrably not. That’s why it’s important to listen to a variety of voices in order to get the feedback we need.
Most of the time, though, the critique we receive the most of comes from people we don’t know and it can be of the type we’d never ask for, and don’t particularly want to hear. And guess what? That has to be okay too. Provided that you are publishing your words in some fashion, that is. People who invest their time and money in our stories have every right to review our work and let the world know how they feel about it. (If you’re just writing for the love of writing and only sharing your words with friends and family, this does not apply to you.)
Generally speaking, people don’t like to be criticised. For any reason. Being judged is right up there with public speaking on the list of things people really hate. But why do we hate it so much? And why does it hurt so badly? Well, I can give you three perfectly valid reasons:
1. It's All In Your Head
Did you know that your brain has a thinking part and an emotional part? Or that criticism affects the emotional part of your brain the most?
The emotional brain is where your past is stored. All your memories of criticism you’ve received in the past and how it made you feel are stored there. Because of how the brain operates, this means that your personal experiences with criticism are brought back to the surface every single time it happens again. And why is that? Well, the short and not very scientific answer is that the emotional part of your brain overrides the thinking part. That’s just how we are wired.
What this means is that it’s much harder for you to be rational and keep your cool when something happens that triggers your emotional brain. The reaction from such triggers can be really intense, and most us want to avoid those feelings at all costs. But the good news is that we can work on this and get better at handling it.
2. Rejection Always Feels Personal
Rejection is never easy to deal with, and most writers – particularly those in the query trenches – have dealt with an awful lot of rejection. Just the other day, I read about a writer who had been rejected repeatedly for 16 years before they finally got their first book published. (You don’t have to go through that, but some writers choose to.)
It is very hard not to feel personally rejected when someone criticises something you poured your heart and soul, and hundreds of hours, into. And when we feel personally rejected, the
lizard emotional brain kicks in. The feedback, whatever form it arrived in, feels like a personal attack and we fail to look at it with our analytical thinking brain switched on. Instead of evaluating the feedback to decide whether it is valid, we get all up in our feels and, let’s face it, allow it to consume us.
What’s important to remember is that there are many reasons we receive critical feedback. Some of those reasons are valid, but some of them are not. To avoid repeating the same cycle of self-doubt, guilt, shame, rage or whatever your typical reaction is, it’s imperative that we learn how to distinguish between valid and invalid criticism.
3. We Don’t Know What To Do
Negative feedback can trigger a fight or flight response in us. It may leave us feeling like we need to do something. Or to stop doing something. Somehow, something deep inside us has been taught to equate criticism with a need for action. But most of the time, we have no idea what it is we need to do. Again, it’s how we are wired. Our ancestors survived because their lizard brains learned how to respond to danger. When to flee and when to fight. We don’t face any sable-toothed tigers in our everyday lives, so for us what the lizard brain sees as danger can be something as simple as a negative review.
Criticism always hurt the most when it feeds into our own negative self-talk (impostor syndrome, anyone?), when we don’t understand it and when we don’t know what to do about it. And when we don’t know what to do, we can spin out of control emotionally.
Like it or not, as writers we will be personally scrutinized and have our words reviewed and found to be sub-standard. It happens to all of us, but we can’t be expected to enjoy it.
Even the most constructive and well-meaning critique can be painful to take onboard. It’s not fun to learn that you’ve made mistakes, but it can help us become better writers. Even when the criticism comes out of the blue and feels brutal. Knowing that nearly everyone hates criticism just as much as we do, and that receiving our first 1- and 2-star reviews is something of a badge of honour, can help us take it on the chin and give us the strength we need to endure it.
– What’s the best/worst feedback you’ve ever received and what did you do about it?
– What do you do when you get negative feedback or bad reviews?
Let’s talk in the comments below, or send me your response via socials or email.
Thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed your stay and look forward to seeing you again.
Evalena Styf is a knowsy roll model and prolific content creator who lives in a queen size bed in the outskirts of London, UK, with a doggo, two cats and a personal assistant.
After 25+ years of anonymous blogging on a number of free platforms, she decided to go pro in 2017. Since then, she’s been working on getting all of her texts edited and put on display in the imaginary pirate ship she’s named after one of her most prominent character traits: The Resilience.
Evalena primarily writes non-fictional texts about personal and professional development, living the dream, and how to keep on living and loving when everything around you seems to be falling apart.