None of us likes criticism, but as writers, we put ourselves out there into the world to be criticized. I think it is even harder for creative writers than others. As a freelance writer, I’m comfortable going back and forth with executives (who may or may not know anything about writing well) and editors (who often know a whole lot) to come up with the final draft. That’s just part of the business. But when it’s my short stories or poems, I’m a bit more sensitive. After all, creative writing contains more of me than my articles and corporate work does.

Gail Godwin wrote, “I work continuously within the shadow of failure,” and that shadow comes in the form of professional critics and editors, friends and family, and probably your worst critic – yourself.

How do we stand up to a world of criticism? I take a three-prong approach. First, I remind myself that just because people criticizes my work, it doesn’t mean they are right. Second, I carefully review what they said to see if I can learn anything from their criticism that will make me a better writer. Third, I listen carefully to my inner voice for guidance.

Discrediting the critics

For professional critics, I always like to remind myself of the Oscar Wilde quote, “To the critic the work of art is simply a suggestion for a new work of his own, that need not necessarily bear any obvious resemblance to the thing it criticizes.”

For all those editors who reject my work, I remind myself of all those books that were rejected dozens (or more) times but went on to be successful. The latest example is The Help, which was rejected more than 60 times – and was recently made into a box-office hit. There are so many others, including Harry Potter. Good thing neither of those authors were stopped in their tracks by rejection letters.

For friends and family, I take all of it – criticism and praise – with a grain of salt (okay, with family, a lot of salt). Your mother may be embarrassed about the language you use or the truths you share in writing; your friends may not be able to give your manuscript a critical eye (though I am grateful for my writers’ group colleagues who can – they, too are friends. And when it comes to your spouse’s critique may I suggest he/she follows, Virginia Woolf’s husband technique: Whenever Virginia had Leonard (who was an editor) read her work, he would return it and say, “Well, you’ve done it again, Virginia.” I have shared this saying with my husband as well, and now, he’s a great critic.

For those editing demons in my own head, I remind myself of how much I have improved and that many of those “voices” in my head are not mine: They come from teachers, parents, etc. Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, which introduced freewriting techniques as a way to outrun the internal editor, said, “We have to look at our own inertia, insecurities, self-hate, fear that, in truth, we have nothing valuable to say. When your writing blooms out of the back of this garbage compost, it is very stable. You are not running from anything. You can have a sense of artistic security. If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.”

Next week, we’ll look at the other two approaches to dealing with criticism. Until then, have a lovely holiday. For more tips, advice, and inspiration on writing, please visit my blog.