Handling Criticism

tearIf you’re going to be a writer, here is something you need to learn – and accept – very quickly: not everybody is going to love what you write.

You could spend hours, days, weeks, working on a story, you may consider it pristine, friends and family might tell you it’s brilliant, your workshopping group may praise you effusively, but that doesn’t guarantee that once it’s out in the world it’s going to be accepted or, if it’s accepted and published, that everybody will like it.

In any sort of artistic endeavour – e.g. writing, music, storytelling – we are all at the whim of subjectivity. We see this everywhere. Avatar is the highest-grossing movie of all time, which validates its popularity, but not everybody likes it. Everybody bemoans the success of Fifty Shades of Grey and the Twilight saga, many question the quality of their writing, but there are people who love these books. People loathe the talent on a TV show like The Voice, whilst others love the music.

Subjectivity is also something we experience firsthand in running [untitled]. There are stories we reject and mightn’t think enough of which we later see popping up in another journal, or placing in a short story competition. Conversely, I’m sure we’ve accepted stories that have been unsuccessful elsewhere. This would be the case with other journals, agents, and even publishers.

Everybody has different tastes.

As we go through our writing lives, we have to learn to divorce ourselves from any destructive opinions, especially if we are (and most of us are to some extent, when it comes to our work) sensitive to criticism. There could be ten opinions of our story, nine of them glowing, and we’ll focus on the one which isn’t and let that gnaw at us.

Writing’s difficult. It’s not easy to sit in front of a blank page or blank screen and conjure an entire story from nothing. Talk to any wag at a party and tell them you’re a writer, and they’ll usually regale you with how they’d like to write a book, as if the act of writing simply required spewing any words and ideas onto a page, oblivious to the need for plotting, characterisation, motivation, structure, finding the right words, the right sentences, the right flow, the right evolution, et al.

Submitting’s little easier. Many writers are apprehensive about putting their work out there, worried that rejection will lead to invalidation. For those who do submit, they’ll lead a thankless existence waiting for journals (or publishers or agents) to respond, trying one after another until finally breaking through with an acceptance, (although acceptances usually remain the exception, rather than the rule).

Many – or at least many others who don’t understand a writer’s need to write – will question why writers do it. There’s (usually) little remuneration, less acknowledgement, and the most gratification we do get is from the accomplishment of completing a story and believing (or perhaps hoping) that it works. Because of the subjectivity of art, whether it works (and whether the story is itself complete) is harder to define than the product of, for example, a cabinetmaker, or a car-manufacturer, or whatever the case might be, as their goals have set parameters that have to be met, whereas storytelling is an abstract thing – no two people would tell the same story the same way.

Time and effort aside, we put a lot of ourselves in our writing. And whether our stories are brilliant or not, whether they’re accepted or not, whether they’re loved or not, we should be proud of that.

So don’t take criticism to heart.


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