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How to Handle Criticism

By Donna L.H. Smith

I hope to bring a fresh perspective to a sensitive subject.

As writers, we’re regularly critiqued, edited, and otherwise told to change our text. It can get downright discouraging if we don’t have the proper attitude toward it. If we have rejection issues (like I do), it can feel personal, when it’s really not.

It’s about our writing, not about us.

For the last several months, I’ve been involved in a project which included three other writers. At first, it sounded fun and exciting. Our book proposal was accepted and we started writing our manuscripts. However, it was clear early on, I didn’t have a clue. I admit to having some sort of brain cramp in the beginning, but God showed me what I needed to do to correct my work.

On this project, I’ve had five sets of eyeballs critique my 95% re-write. That’s humbling and it’s valuable. It can be frustrating however, when as I call it “dueling editors” disagree on what words I should or should not use. At that point, it’s up to me to decide, but ultimately, the submitting agent has the last word.

Proverbs 15:31 says, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.” NLT Amplified says it this way, “The ear that listens to the reproof [that leads to or gives] life will remain among the wise.”

When we’re critiqued by others, sometimes we become over-sensitive. It’s easy to do. That’s why I say it’s not personal, yet we “take” it that way, don’t we?

As a person with rejection issues, I have to allow myself time to process and release the hurt, the anger, and other emotions. And I’ve had to deal with strange rejections…like the award-winning agent’s intern who didn’t know the difference between an administrative instruction and what they should actually type in an email rejection subject line…Or the conference organizers who didn’t have their facts straight about what contest winners and losers were or were not in attendance.

But I digress. This is about evaluation. And yet, we sometimes take criticism as rejection, when it’s not meant to be.

It’s all in how we decide to handle it.

Part of that is processing. I am fortunate and blessed to have a wonderful mentor (thanks DiAnn), a few close friends, and a wonderful husband I process my emotions with.

A couple years ago, I entered my novel in the Genesis contest. It hadn’t been edited professionally at that point, even though I’d been through it numerous times myself. It didn’t progress beyond the first round. Two of my scores were decent, but one judge in particular, gave me a low score and this remark. “I’m having trouble finding anything positive to say about this entry.” Ouch. Thankfully, my wonderful mentor gave me wise counsel.

She said, “Sometimes that happens. Take what you can from it; throw out what you don’t think is helpful.” After a couple months, I revisited those critiques from Genesis and used them to improve my novel.

The same is true for another contest I entered in which I was a semi-finalist. (This was the incorrect facts episode). I was given valuable criticism when I was ready to receive it.

And therein, is the crux of the matter. Depending on your emotional make-up, it can be sooner, or later.

I’m trying to see how quickly I can process the negative and improve my projects. I forgive, release, and move on.

Donna LH SmithDonna L.H. Smith is a Kansas prairie girl transplanted to Lancaster County, PA, writing on and off for forty years. She writes historical romance and serves as the ACFW Pennsylvania State Chapter President and Area Coordinator. Her novel “Meghan’s Choice” was a semi-finalist in Operation 1st Novel 2015.

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5 Responses to How to Handle Criticism

  1. Warren says:

    It’s a good thing God did when He put DiAnn amongst us. Now, if I could find some emotion somewhere…

  2. DiAnn Mills says:

    Donna, great post! Honest and professional suggestions to help all writers grow in their skills.

  3. Pegg Thomas says:

    As one of the other three writers Donna mentioned, I have to say, she did an amazing job in her rewrite of her novella. It was night-and-day different. She took the criticism and turned it into someone very positive. Well done, Donna. And don’t worry if you called us each some colorful and imaginative names as you read through our critiques. Trust me. We’ve ALL been there and done that! It’s just part of the process.

  4. Adriel says:

    The #1 reason I decided to be a self published author, is that I am absolutely terrified of criticism! I grew up being put down and bullied in school, and so it’s hard for me to separate constructive criticism from people who are just being mean. But now I’m 34 years old, and seriously asking myself, “Do I want to be the best writer I can be or not?”

  5. Karlene Berry says:

    I’ve only just found out about the American Christian Fiction Writer and found the information on the blog helpful. I have just written my first book: The Berry Boys Series: Bullies on the School Bus- and wish I had known about ACFW before. The book is self published and I did do a lot of research, but I am so happy to have found this site and am seriously thinking of becoming a member. The blog has been informative and encouraging. Thank you.

    K.F.Berry