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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Silencing the Critics

One thing I didn't realize when I became published was that I wouldn't just have to deal with a few negative reviews but with what would seem some days like an onslaught of negativity. Reviewers are one thing, I'm one of 'em. Critics are another. They seem live to find what's wrong with the world, and more specifically your work.

One particularly bad review of a friend's novel prompted me to visit the scathing reviewer's home page where she did not camouflage her mission. Um... I thought this was just the stuff of paranoid writers. Guess not.
"I hate books that are selling well and getting lots of positive reviews so I look for what's wrong with them."

Wow, imagine going through life trying to see the bad instead of the good? How miserable an existence.

Now that I'm on the other side of the fence, I'm finding the need to distance myself from critics, not because what they say has no merit, sometimes they do. What I find happening though is as I'm trying to meet my deadline, I hear them in my head, "Implausible! Melodramatic! Depressing! Juvenile! Whatever."

This can be paralyzing. I never would have thought I would be so effected but I am.

So, how do I silence the critics in my head? The obvious answer is to not read the reviews, good or bad. This is sometimes easier said than done.

For me, another solution is to open the sunshine folder my agent, Chip, told me to start keeping years ago. I go back and read the letters from the folks who were touched by my words. I also pray about it. Not as much as I should, but more than I used to.

What about you other writers who have opened yourself up to the critics of the world by sending your heart and words into the world to be judged? How do you silence the critics in your head so you can write without that peanut gallery of negativity?


  1. Hey a sunshine folder is a good idea. A little bit of sweetness to take the sting out of bad reviews.

  2. From a slightly different POV, being self-published always "stings". The critics and most published writers/professionals take pot shots at your work before they ever consider reading something so "lowly".

    I do think it's a prayer thing, Gina. In reality we have to know the Lord is pleased with our effort, our work. If we don't have that confirmation, we have nothing at all. Poof: up in smoke like so much chaff.

    I don't do well with criticism. I guess I distrust most of it. I'll take it from someone who has the cred I respect. Otherwise, it just hurts. On the other hand, praise can be overstated and unhelpful.

    Prayer, baby.

  3. I think it was Spurgeon who said that to the degree praise pleases you, criticism will hurt you. In other words, the more we are enamored with "favorable" reviews, the more frustrated we will be with "unfavorable" ones. In this sense, the only way to "silence the critics," is to ignore the flattery as well.

    Also, I wonder that we Christians have become averse to giving bad reviews. We somehow believe it's wrong to publicly express dislike, or marginal enthusiasm, in another Christian author's work. As a result, we never get any hard feedback -- it's all "soft" praise, a safe cocoon of acceptance. I suspect this may be one reason why we Christians can be overly sensitive to criticism.

  4. Gina,

    No expert here, 2 novels released, my 3rd coming in April. But I've had my share of what you're talking about, definitely feel your pain.

    Not sure why it gets under our skin so much. You'd think we'd be able to look at the ratio of positive-to-negative, step back and say, "Hey, I'm doing pretty good here."

    I'll do that, then I'll go back and read the critic's words 2 or 3 more times, followed by an imaginary conversation, where I tell him/her what he/she needs to understand (in order to appreciate my work more). I usually follow this with a dose of self-loathing for wasting my time getting so bugged about it.

    I do like Chip's sunshine folder idea. Kind of goes along with Paul's advice in Phil 4:8.

    I also try to compartmentalize my negative feedback. I'm sure you have those trusted voices who love you too much to only tell you what you want to hear (but they also really know their stuff). These are my A-listers as far as criticism. If they don't agree with the critics "out there," then I go with what they're saying.

    Hope you have a wonderful and safe New Year holiday!

  5. In the light of all you published people, :), my thoughts are just from slight experience. I believe if you are writing as led by the Lord, and writing in the Spirit, you can expect criticism, because all acts that bring the Lord glory are going to be criticized. Mary was criticized for wiping the Lord's feet with her hair, because she was wasting money.

    If it is constructive criticism, it can be used to make better writers. If it is just spiritual warfare, keeping putting on the armor and writing for the winning side!

  6. All good comments. Thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts. Mike, you'll see. Flattery does not puff me up I don't think, but criticism, well certain types of criticism, does get under my skin at times. It probably shouldn't, but well, I'm human what can I say?

    Again, thanks all.

  7. Gina -- Gosh, I hope that didn't come off as aimed at just you. It was meant as the statement of a general principle. I used to reference that Charles Spurgeon quote a lot when I was in the ministry, pastors being notoriously vulnerable to both praise and criticism. But I do think we Christians have cultivated a bit of an echo chamber when it comes to our work, which makes it more difficult to cede bad reviews when we get them. Blessings!

  8. No worries, Mike. I didn't take your comment as being aimed at just me. I'm getting my fair share of both praise and criticism. Doing my best not to buy into either. Therein lies the struggle.

  9. "You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." John Wooden
    Gina, You certainly have more exposure than I do, so the comments you have experienced would be far more prolific on both sides since that is what people do. Still, I recently had a person come to me at a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, and in the hearing of many she told me what she did not like about my novel and what I need to do to make the next one better. She did not have one positive comment. Fortunately, her comments are not the norm. I have wonderful comments to neutralize hers. However, I wrote my book specifically to honor the Lord and I know that I excelled at that so I can take her comments and move on. Still, it was not a fun few moments and I did avoid her for the remainder of the celebration until I could sort through it all and drop it at the feet of the cross.

  10. Gina,
    There are some people who live to be negative. They cloak themselves in anger and hate, as though sunshine is their personal enemy. Another's success is something to attack, denigrate, if possible destroy. Perhaps it is because these individuals simply feel unfulfilled, insecure or just jealous.

    It is one thing to provide constructive crtique (note, I do not say criticism). It is another to set out to intentionally point out only things one feels is wrong or inadequate with the creative work of another.

    When I have received feedback that hurts, I set it aside for a bit and then go back to look for what may be of value. Sometimes I will visit that feedback two or three times to be sure MY emotions aren't blocking whatever value may be in the feedback. After that, I put it aside.

    Someone who only looks to be negative cannot lift anyone up or be of any benefit. That kind of person is only looking to tear down others. They are to be pitied.

    Glenna F.

  11. I remember some statistics I read somewhere years ago: 87% of people think they can write a book, less than 1% do. I think that putting pen to paper and completing a book is a great accomplishment. It doesn't matter if it isn't a best seller. So,consider the source.

  12. Creative work is lonely work, and often painful for all of us who are creating lovingly for the benefit of others. We live in a time when it is cool to be caustic and cynical. Critics who aim to tear down rather than build up are not worth our attention. I try to recall the criticism heaped on Christ, who came to save and to love, and who did everything perfectly. Not even He was accepted; my imperfect creative efforts surely won't be either. But I'll work as unto God, keep my heart soft so that I can continually improve, and entrust the outcomes to Him.

  13. Great post! Great advice, too! You have inspired me by this well thought out commentary on critics and their reasons (sometimes) for being so negative.


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