Surviving Criticism

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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RE: Surviving Criticism

Postby jlblanchard3 » Wed Aug 20, 2008 5:15 am

When I was a freshman in college, I wrote my very first opinion piece--a review of the school play. I attended and thought it was one of the lamest plays I'd ever seen. Although many other agreed with me, the week after the review ran in the paper my editor received a letter from the play's actors (obviously) who said I was wrong and a horrible journalist.

At first I really took it to heart and decided I was never writing another review again. But after a couple days and after talking with my editor, I learned that everyone is allowed to have an opinion, and if the tables were turned and I had been in the play, I'm sure I would've reacted the same way to a negative review.

Lesson learned. I ended up taking an opinion writing course the next semester, thou, just to make sure I was doing a good job as a reviewer.

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby Ultimate Cheapskate » Wed Aug 20, 2008 6:02 am

Criticism from - and for - some of the greats:

'He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.' - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

'Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?' - Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

'Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it.' - Moses Hadas

'He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.' - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby noblew » Wed Aug 20, 2008 5:10 pm

When I was in my early twenties I bravely submitted my first piece to a magazine I admired. The editor rejected it and said that it was 'trite and unoriginal'. I was shattered and decided I didn't have what it takes. I lived in a country town and didn't have any access to information about writing - no writers' groups, no classes, no mentor etc. Many years later, I finally learned that the editor's page-long rejection was actually a really good one. I recently reread it (yes, I kept it) and realised he also said a lot of good stuff. It was my insecurity that honed in on the negatives.
You've got to trust yourself and keep at it.

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby louisianabook » Wed Aug 20, 2008 6:57 pm

That's funny!! :)

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby louisianabook » Wed Aug 20, 2008 7:00 pm

So Sorry. I thought the reply I just sent would be connected to the writer who wrote that someone said "You're the worst writer in the world." and it was his Mom. Now, that was funny. Hey dude, looks like you're a good writer to me.

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RE: Surviving Criticism

Postby louisianabook » Wed Aug 20, 2008 7:02 pm

While reading "Surviving the Spite" (October) I kept thinking about the first person who approached the table at my first book signing. The woman picked up my book, The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story and took her time looking it over. I thought she was going to ask me to sign the book for her, but instead, she grimaced and said, "Hmph! Terri Hoover Dunham, what would you know about Cajuns?" I was so taken aback by her remark and the look on her face, it took me a second to gather my wits. At first, I wanted to spit an equally nasty remark right back at her. Then, I thought about going into a lengthy discussion of my family tree, as if I needed to defend myself for writing a Cajun book. But I finally decided to give her a short explanation. "My Cajun lineage is on my mother's side." She seemed thoroughly disappointed that I answered calmly, that I didn't fall apart. Then she looked me right in the eyes and said, "Well!" and she stormed off.
Sometimes you encounter people who think it's their job to make you miserable. Don't let them! I won't allow a negative experience overshadow all of the nice comments I've received about my writing.

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby Holly Mrald Dae » Sat Aug 23, 2008 5:26 pm

When my mother's angry, she tends to say things she doesn't mean. I typed somethign exactly as she wanted it and she got mad when it didn't come out like she wanted. "You can't even type up something that someone else has written up right and recognize the errors. I hope your writing isn't like that. Full of mistakes and typos," she said. I glad it was over the phone. I just hung up on her. It wasn't my job to revise what she wrote and even if it was, I always wait a few days or weeks before I start revisin my things.

That didn't stop me though. She was just frustrated. I brushed it off. People have said a lot worse...

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby raymondstary » Sun Aug 24, 2008 5:11 am

My mother criticised my writing once....once.

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby Kirby » Sun Aug 24, 2008 1:02 pm


First: Are you for hire the next time I receive a rejection?
Second: Is your mother by chance the editor of a magazine that I sent a story to? She sounds very familiar.

My criticism story is from my field of journalism. A man wrote in, calling me, "a wolf in blond haired, blue eyed Shirley Temple clothing." I don't know what his complaint was about...I filed down my teeth that day.

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Re: Surviving Criticism

Postby jiraffales » Sun Aug 24, 2008 2:09 pm

I wrote a nonfiction book that was rejected by 63 publishers, so I self-published it. A year later, after having sent individual emails and letters to over 1,500 potential readers, I've sold.... two copies.

Actually, there has been no criticism received; just utter silence.

Many publishers did send courteous rejection letters, though.

My response? Dejection. What I've learned from it? I don't know yet.


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