Writing for Web: 8 Tips on Criticism

Let’s be honest, no one likes criticism. No one enjoys pouring their heart and energy into something to hear that it isn’t perfect. But criticism is important.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” — Winston Churchill

This week’s discussion is about workshops and critiques (Chapter 13), and although you may wince at the idea of someone ripping your work to shreds, it’s for the greater good.

As a proofreader, I am paid to point out mistakes. I spend 80 percent of my day telling people to change things, and I can be pretty tough. Proofreaders and editors have a special skill set for finding problems and fixing them. We don’t like our work criticized either, but it’s just part of the process. Have you ever seen a proofreader find out they missed something? It’s not pretty.

How do you not let it drag out down? Here are my top 8 tips for receiving feedback – negative or positive – and how it makes you a better writer.

1. Don’t take it personally. I cannot stress how important, and often difficult, it is to do this. Your critiques and comments do not reflect you as a person, nor do they mean your readers don’t like you. It’s not about you; it’s about your story and how you present it. It stings and can make you upset, but deal with it at the right time.

2. Encourage yourself and others. Give yourself a pep talk now and then. This will help you focus on the good aspects of your writing and reignite excitement. Give others the same treatment. For every bad comment, try to find a good one.

3. Choose wisely. Keep in mind what you get depends on who you give it to. Your mom may be more forgiving and kind than your best friend. Your best friend may not be as honest as a coworker or colleague. If you know someone is tough, be prepared.

4. Ask for specifics. When you want someone else to read your work, give them a list of things to look for while reading. You can also give them a rating scale or anonymous survey that only you see. Doing so will keep you organized and help the reviewer stay focused.

5. Own it. Admit your problems and mistakes, and fix them (see number 1). Also, if you tell your reviewer/editor to “rip it apart”, you better mean it. I have butchered dozens of papers and manuscripts and will always do so. A little secret: I do the same to my own.

6. Discuss, don’t argue. No one likes to fight, so discuss problems and questions calmly and rationally. Don’t get defensive (again see number 1), and hear the person out. Once you have time to take it all in, then make your decision about the changes.

7. Take a break. Once you receive changes and feedback, take a break for a few days. Don’t immediately jump in and start changing everything. You may not always agree with the changes, and the final decision is always yours.

8. Walk away. Once you have gone through the process, made your changes, and read the project in its entirety, it’s done. Now is the time to post it or submit it, and don’t look back. You’ll know when it’s time, and you will finally have closure.

Feedback and criticism are tough, but you are not alone. Everyone receives it all the time. The most important thing to remember is it is in your best interest to at least listen and seriously consider the reviewers’ points. They want to help you, and you picked them for a reason.

Cartoon Raven with red pen and paper

We’d like to hear from you! Have you ever received feedback that upset you? What did you do?

4 thoughts on “Writing for Web: 8 Tips on Criticism

  1. James Castro

    Having a tough proofreader is a life saver. Especially when someone mixes up his own characters and gives the wrong one the wrong personality for about 120 pages…lol

  2. Nyssa Silvester

    I think the only criticism that has upset me was when I didn’t feel like the editor was being specific enough. Basically anything that left me confused and frustrated instead of pointing out a clear direction or at least very specific problems.

    When I’m the one giving criticism, I try my best to give comments about how much I liked elements of the manuscript too. If I thought something was really cool, apt, or innovative, I have no problems writing that in the margins. So far it’s kept authors on my good side–fingers crossed I can keep that up. 🙂

    1. I’m glad that’s working for you! I know it’s not easy sometimes, but we all need the boost. And good point on the clarity. I think sometimes we think the person just gets it and expect them to take the directive. I try to be as specific as possible and can be a bit too wordy because of it 🙂

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