The Best Response to Bad Criticism (Insecure Writers’ Support Group)

Author’s Note: Another first Wednesday of the month, another post for The Insecure
Writer’s Support Group
. Be sure to check out the many other writers participating in this blog hop. Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for leading the IWSG.

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

As writers, as artists, as creators, we put our work out there for public consumption. Whether it’s one person who reads it, or thousands (we hope!) who read your new short story published at New Millenium Writings (okay, I’ll stop dreaming now…), you’re putting your work out there, for people to enjoy, to digest, to appreciate.

Some people will not like your work. And will not hesitate to tell the rest of the Internet that your writing sucks.

I got some bad reviews for my blog collection, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere. I knew my brand of humor essay wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I went ahead with self-publishing my collection nonetheless. It’s one thing to win the praise of friends and family, it’s another to win the praise of complete strangers. Still, getting some bad reviews stung, especially when the reviews seemed so far off the mark. One reviewer criticized me for my “stories” having no form, no plot, and bad characters.

You have to resist the temptation to lash back at your critics. I mean, screw ‘em, what do they know, right?

That’s exactly what Josh Homme, he of Queens of the Stone Age, said in an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast recently.

(Yeah, here I go again quoting sources of inspiration from unlikely sources of inspiration. See: Bourdain, Anthony)

When asked about the creative process, Homme pointed out that no matter what he does, he’s never going to be able to please everyone, and anyone who aspires to please everyone is running a fool’s errand. To take that one step further, he addressed some of the criticism he’s received in the past:

I work and I work until I’m 100% satisfied that what I’ve done is the best work I’ve done, and once I’m done with that, there’s nothing I can do to control whether people like it or not. If they like it or love it, that’s great. If not, then the CD makes for a nice drink coaster.”

What Josh Homme said can also be applied to writing. Write to the very best of your abilities, exceed them, even. Write knowing that the short story or novel or poem you’ve written has been written to meet your high standards (that is, assuming you have high standards, and you’re not one of those waterheads who thinks it’s perfectly fine to just write something you’ve just pulled out of your ass as a first draft and throw it up there, without a single edit, on self-publishing platforms like CreateSpace or SmashWords…), and no one but you will know what you’ve undertaken to create what you’ve created.

Yes, we all want our work to be appreciated, but, face it, that’s not going to happen. Just like we’re going to get rejected by agents and publishers, we’re also going to get rejected by reviewers. So be it. You wrote the best book you could write. If a book reviewer doesn’t like your novel and posts a review somewhere, that’s their right. But that reviewer isn’t going to take away from you what makes you a writer. Their bad review doesn’t make you a bad writer. Far from it. You wrote the best you could, and you’re probably writing something even better as we speak. Keep at it.

And just like that person who disliked the new Queens of the Stone Age album – and, really, who is that idiot? …Like Clockwork is amazing – has been encouraged to turn that CD into a nice new drink coaster, I invite that person who gave my book a bad review to make some nice artwork out of my book. Or donate the book to a friend or to their local public library.

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29 thoughts on “The Best Response to Bad Criticism (Insecure Writers’ Support Group)

    • At some point, we make a decision to become a writer, knowing full well not all of our work is going to ever be fully embraced. With that being said, that can only help us become better writers, I think, in spite of any bad criticism we’ll likely receive.

      Thanks for reading. Been enjoying your copy of P&W so far?

  1. Someone asked James Patterson (no, he’s not related to me) to comment on a negative review that he received on one of his books. His reply was simply, “they’re wrong”. My point being, that perhaps we sometimes need to have some confidence in ourselves. There is sometimes a thin line between confidence and arrogance.

    • As much as I despise James Patterson, he’s absolutely correct. Criticism is merely one person’s opinion, and I can either embrace it or ignore it. If James Patterson even once bought into the millions of words of bad criticism he’s endured, he wouldnt be where he is to. Even if he’s the worst kind of writing hack, his attitude is pretty admirable, that attitude between confidence and arrogance indeed.

    • Hey Julie, congrats on your book being published! Remember to keep a good attitude; someone’s going to come along and tell you you’re not a good writer, but what do they know? You know you can write. Why else would you have sweated every word in your book, and revised and revised and revised until it sounded just right?

  2. Excellent advice. It’s impossible to please everyone. If you love what you’ve produce, stand by it, better it if possible, and never stop trying to improve.

  3. Reviews are not yet something I’ve had much experience with receiving, but my time on the blog-o-sphere has changed the way I give them.
    Now when I review stuff, i leave out all recommendations on whether to read the book and just highlight what I thought was good and what needs work.
    I find positive language and sparing use of the word “but” can make even a bad review palatable. At least, I hope.

    • I’ve read some of your reviews. I think you’re very fair in how you assess whether a book is good or bad, and it’s never about whether the writer can writer or not. Some book reviewers on the Internet are just trolls, looking to bash the shit out of anything they can get their hands on. Especially if it’s free.

  4. Great advice. I’ve not been published, but everyone’s had experience of people twisting or misunderstanding what was intended.

    Without knowing the context, Patterson seems quite arrogant in saying his critics were ‘wrong’ but if your critics misunderstood what the intent of the book was, it seems perfectly fine to think that!

    • Patterson receives criticism, and justly, because his books are insanely formulaic, and he actually doesn’t write them – the fact that he outlines the books and then employs teams of ghost writers to flesh out his stories is the worst-kept secret in the publishing industry. But if critics are going to question him what the intent and results of his books are, then Patterson is absolutely right in saying the critics are wrong.

      • Fair enough, I’m commenting without hearing the criticism so I’ll take your word for it. Personally I think it takes a lot of self-confidence/ego to be able to totally dismiss your critics like that!

        Is it Patterson whose book each have the number of the series they are in in the title? (Eleventh Hour, so on.) I remember seeing that on the bookshelf of a supermarket, and literally laughing out loud at how stupid it was – I had to check the blurb to make sure it wasn’t intended as a spoof!

        • You have to be this way, thick skinned, in order to survive as a writer.

          Yes, James Patterson writes those novels. I once joked in a blog post that he writes a new novel every 23 minutes.

  5. I had a really harsh critique from a beta reader and I imagined how I would feel if someone wrote the same thing to my published work. It wouldn’t be good. I have to admit, I write reviews on my blog and if I can’t find something positive to say about it, I won’t publish the review. I can’t be apart of making someone doubt their dream. Can you just avoid all negative reviews?

    • It just doesn’t work that way, Sydney. A negative review isn’t a reflection on the writer’s ability, only their output. Every great author has written crap, and been called out for it. Even writers with decent talent can write masterpieces. But if you can’t take a bad review…then you need to think about what it is about a bad review that bothers you so much.

      Personally, a bad review doesn’t bother me. It’s only one person’s opinion. You’re bound to get more positive reviews than negative ones, anyway.

  6. I received a rather harsh critique from one of my beta readers and although she was mean, she had some good points. It took me a moment to work through my feelings and take it for what it was worth. If I had received the same critique on a published work, I don’t know if I could handle it. I think it’s my biggest fear. My plan is to avoid all reviews. Once their out there, there is nothing I can do about them, so why read them.

  7. Good post. I’ve had little to deal with in the way of bad reviews (no one has critiqued my published works as hard as my editor did the drafts I thought were all pretty and ready to go!), but I know I tremble when family members read my stuff. I so greatly fear they won’t think it’s good! Of course, they’ll be too polite so say so, but then they’ll look at me, and I’ll know. . .

    • I’ll take an editor’s critique any day. As for family’s feedback, I take it with a grain of salt. They’ll always tells you it’s good, but they won’t be honest with you, which can be discouraging.

  8. Damn dude, where the heck have I been? Off in La-la land ever since the third Wednesday of last month, that’s where. I tried to cut down to twice/month (first and third Wed), but January had five, so…long vacation. I think I’ll pop back to weekly. Trying to get some extracurricular writing done. By that, I mean WIP. And some shorts. And putting together a new office! Got some great furniture from Office Depot on big-time sale. Can’t wait to clear out this clutter and make room for it. I’m documenting it for a Writer’s Workspace feature on another blog. Anyhoo…not to bend your ear but…

    You’ve been a writing fool! I guess I haven’t even been great at checking my emails, because I usually catch your posts in there and come comment if they’re any good. ;) I know I’ve not dipped into my reader. I’ve been slap worn out.

    Great post, btw. Loved the coaster reference and the other guy’s quote (don’t feel like scrolling up). Screw the critics. That’s the only way you’ll feel free enough to write…with a critics be damned attitude.

  9. I have been a writer for over a decade and published a good number of nonfiction books and the large majority were very good and few were just terribly negative. That never bothered me. My point is I released a fiction novel and got an overwhelming numbed of genuine great reviews but I am devastated by the few one stars. The people are always anonymous, no picture, and either have one or two reviews or hundreds. Always something fishy about them. Sorry I am rambling but I am still fresh off the hurt. I never expected to get so messed up like this. I am really scared for myself.

    • Everyone is going to get bad reviews. It shouldn’t make a difference to you if these reviews are legit or not. The point is, bad reviews aren’t going to change who you are as a writer, unless you let them change you.

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