How To Deal With Writing Criticism And Negative Feedback

writer receiving writing criticism from a colleague

Even the most brilliant writers can feel frustrated, disillusioned, or demoralized when it comes to their work. Here’s how to keep writing through it all.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Sometimes when we write, it can feel like rivers of creativity are flowing from heart to brain to fingers to page. Other times, it can feel like swimming through liquid cement. And sometimes, all it takes is a microscopic event to cause our perspectives to downgrade from the former to the latter.

Even when life leaves you feeling the most disconnected from the joy of writing, there are ways to stay connected with your craft and hasten your return to a place of confident creativity. Read on for a few strategies that have helped me in such situations; I hope these ideas can be helpful in your own work, too.

You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea

I generally love books by Haruki Murakami, but I have friends who can’t stand his writing. Some people I am close to adore Hermann Hesse, but I could never get into him. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare — even the greatest of writers hit strongly with some readers and miss with others.

If you get less-than-ideal feedback on your writing, remember that a negative reaction simply means that your work didn’t resonate with that individual reader; it’s not a commentary on your skill or potential as a writer, even though it may feel that way. Don’t ignore negative reactions to your work — they can be far more valuable than hearing people gush over how amazing you are — but keep critical feedback in context. If someone doesn’t like your work, learn what you can from the experience and keep writing.

Every writer encounters roadblocks

According to The Cultured Giraffe, Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected eighty times by publishers before becoming an international hit. C.S. Lewis got handed eight hundred rejections before achieving publishing success. J.K. Rowling, George Orwell, Dr. Seuss — the list of often-rejected-but-now-successful writers goes on.

In your own writing practice, remember that almost no writer, no matter how skilled or lucky, skates to success without bruises. If you’re feeling down about your writing for any reason, know that you are in excellent company — and just like the writers mentioned above, keep writing.

Use moments of discouragement as motivation

Sometimes a rejection, negative review, or having a reader “not get” your writing can be a much-needed wake-up call. Perhaps such an event can show you that you rely too heavily on clichés or borrowed language, or will push you to evolve your characters in even more unconventional and creative ways. A less-than-positive reaction to your work could also signify a turning point in how you try to share it; perhaps you need a fresh approach to finding the right audience for your work.

Getting discouraged as a writer may feel like an invitation to give up, but it’s also an opportunity to refocus, rededicate, and reinvent. In the words of one of my favorite children’s books, Rosie Revere, Engineer, “Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!”

Loop your feelings back into your work

Strong emotions can translate into strong writing. If you’re feeling discouraged in your writing practice, try stepping back, looking at feelings of sadness or frustration, and figuring out how to incorporate that intensity of emotion as creative fuel.

If you’re working on a novel, can you focus your energy on making your protagonist’s struggle feel all the more real? If you’re penning a historical text about a city or community, can you channel your feelings into a section on your subject’s more challenging moments? Regardless of how it manifests, just remember to use your feelings to power your writing process and not disconnect from it.

Write for yourself

When I find myself feeling discouraged about my writing — for any reason — I remind myself that, while I like it when others enjoy my work, I’m writing primarily for myself. It’s all too easy for writers to fall into the trap of attempting to please others, and there certainly is a time and place for that. But as writers, we must always remember that a huge part of our job is creating work that resonates with us. Focus on crafting something that you feel is beautiful, meaningful, and important, regardless of what anyone else might think, and see how quickly negative feelings towards your writing transmute into positive momentum.

Don’t stop writing!

When you’re feeling the most down about your writing, even adding a single sentence or paragraph is a triumph. Keep writing.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Michael
    I have just had the third book of a trilogy published with a local publisher. Negative feedback from leading lights, on exerpts read at my writing club, halted it’s progress. Others were more balanced in their critiques but their voices were less resonant. Eventually, I stopped airing my writing and just got on with it.

  2. Dear Michael , Thank you for your encouraging article . I’ve recently seen video interviews with award winning actors who’ve said the exact same thing . I’ve completed a historical novel based in part on maternal family history . At this point I’ve decided to self publish as I’m retired and unsure of how many productive writing years I’ve left . I’ve spent a lifetime in the hospitality industry and have stories to tell which require little research . Bust of luck in your writing and musical career .

  3. Hi Michael, thanks for your wise words. I am writing for myself, and hoping to share my mistakes so that others avoid them. In some critics eyes this is moaning, whining, etc. My writing has helped me, so it’s worth the effort. best wishes

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