How to Handle Criticism on your Fiction Writing

Feedback on Writing Fiction

As a writer and especially as a writer of fiction, you’re likely to crave feedback. It’s only natural. Exciting stories and plots take place in your world, complicated and impossible quests are resolved by amazing characters. It’s nothing if not worth talking about.
The only way to handle criticism in every area, not just writing, is to put it to good use. Your best friend has just informed you, “Your point of view is all over the place.” Ouch! It hurts, OK, but what can you do next? Try asking for details. Why? Where? That’s how criticism can be easily turned into a precious resource for improvement.

Some criticism is simply nasty and it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. You are likely to receive this type of pointless feedback on online forums and so-called “writing groups”, where no one knows anyone and strangers find gratification in insulting other strangers. If you find a particular feedback has been given just for the sake of criticism, i.e. with no arguments and no details, the best thing to do is stop taking notice and move on.

It also makes sense to ensure you’re dealing with fair-minded parties when you get feedback on what you write. Especially after best-selling crime author R J Ellroy admitted to reviewing positively his own books and very negatively his competitors’ on sites such as amazon.co.uk. He wrote on his Facebook page: “Over the last 10 years I have posted approximately 12 reviews of my own books, and I also criticized a book written by Stuart MacBride, and another by Mark Billingham, both of whom had done nothing to warrant such criticism.” If this happens to you, it’s likely to hurt more than the cross-eyed point of view.

Stephen King recognised that bad criticism can be damaging in his On Writing. As a teenager, he wrote a horror story, designed a black and white cover on an A4 paper, printed it out in a few copies and sold it at his high-school for a profit. A teacher, Miss Hisler, told him it was “trash”, made him reclaim all sold copies and refund all the kids’ money. As a result, Stephen King spent many years being ashamed of his writing.

He says: “I think I was forty before I realized that every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”

You can turn this instance into a precedent every time someone will try to make you feel lousy about what or how you write.

About Lorena Goldsmith

Literary consultant at Daniel Goldsmith Associates.
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