Writing is an incredibly vulnerable business.
Anyone who has ever shared their writing knows this. Not only are we opening up our hearts and sharing pieces of our souls with the world, but we are also exposing ourselves to a great deal of criticism.
And the world is full of critics.
Unfortunately, there is also another kind of criticism that writers seem to attract, beyond bad reviews on our books. This kind is a little more personal. And, whereas we can learn to brush off the negative reviews and grow a thick skin for the readers who hated everything about our writing, it’s a little harder to brush aside persistent comments from well-meaning co-workers, relatives, and sometimes even close friends. Comments like, you spend too much time at your computer. You need to get out more. Or, you realize writing isn’t a realistic career, right? Who is going to support you while you’re ‘chasing your dreams’?
Or, one of my personal favorites (or least favorites), writing fiction is a waste of time. People should be paying attention to the real world.
Um. That’s what we’re doing, Mark. Fiction mirrors reality and creates the opportunity to influence and teach without shouting opinions in someone’s face.
Disclaimer: Mark is a fictional character. Any resemblance to a person or persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Don’t hunt Mark down.
Writing is hard, both for people who pursue it as a hobby and for those of us struggling to make it our career. It takes a lot of time, it takes a giant amount of commitment, and—sometimes—people really don’t understand why we do what we do. After all, writers aren’t known for earning a lot of money, and we spend a lot of time alone.
For some reason, people seem to resent that. I’ve never understood why.
So, no matter what kind of criticism you’re facing, here are five ways I’ve learned to absorb or deflect it without getting too hurt in the process.
1) Consider the source.
Is it someone you respect? Or is it someone who has, in the past, said negative things simply to hurt you?
Or, is it someone who you don’t know at all and who doesn’t know you?
The source of criticism is extremely important. Before you take the words to heart, decide if the person speaking them has your best interest at heart, if they care about you, and if they make wise decisions in their own life.
If they do, it may be time to pause and consider what they’re saying.
If not, brush it off. Not everyone deserves the chance to help direct your path.
2) Ask yourself if there is any truth behind what was said.
This one may take a bit of a bite out of your ego. But that’s okay.
Is it true? Do you need to spend some time outside, both for your mental health and your physical health? Are you pushing yourself too hard and neglecting parts of your life that are important and need attention? After all, life is about balance, and taking care of yourself and your relationships is important.
On the flip side of that, do you really have no chance to make a career as a writer? Are you really not good enough to make this happen? Are you really being irresponsible for pursuing your dream?
This world needs writers. It needs storytellers, and people who are willing to sacrifice for their dreams. And, if you’re not ‘good enough’ to be published yet, you will be if you keep after it. The only way to fail as a writer is to quit. We are always growing and there is always room for improvement.
3) Ask for a second opinion.
Go to someone you trust. Someone who knows you, who knows your dreams, who knows what you are working so hard for. Tell them what the person said, and ask what their thoughts are on it.
They might surprise you.
4) Adjust accordingly.
No good ever comes of being stuck-in-the-mud stubborn and never listening to anyone. So, after you’ve considered the source, considered the truth behind what was said, and asked for a second opinion, it may be time to adjust your habits. Maybe take a walk before you start writing in the morning, or take an evening off to spend with friends. Work that extra part-time job so that you’re not going under financially while you’re doing what you love.
On the other hand, no good ever comes of being swayed by every opinion that comes your way. If you don’t trust the source, if there’s no truth behind what was said, and, especially, if your ‘trusted someone’ called bull, then brush it off and move on. You’re under no obligation to change yourself to suit the world.
5) Realize that you cannot please everyone.
Some people will just not understand. They won’t look at what you do and see value, and some of them will make a point of telling you so.
Let it go.
You’re a writer. If you are settled and at peace with it in your own heart, and—for those of you who believe in this kind of thing—are at peace with it before God, then let it be. You have passions, you have dreams, you have a life that is yours—and yours alone—to build and cultivate. Make the choices that you can live with, and don’t conform your life to other people’s expectations.
You’re the one who has to live with your decisions. So make sure they’re ones that you want to live with.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.