How to Take Criticism (and Learn to like It)

By Zahren, Bill | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), January 10, 2019 | Go to article overview

How to Take Criticism (and Learn to like It)


Zahren, Bill, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


Thirty-two years of writing for a living has made me familiar with having my work criticized by anyone who can read and write.

In other words, people age 5 and older. Welcome to my world.

Sure, some of that criticism has felt like unmedicated dental surgery. But, just as the right attitude can make regular trips to the dentist a way to avoid pain, the right mindset also can transform criticism from emotional pain to professional gain.

Here's my three-step program for how to learn from criticism. Even though I talk about writers, most of the steps also apply to many other ­professions.

Step 1: Minimize your emotional response

Ignore criticism that contains no "why." This is the No. 1 step. I guarantee you're going to run into criticism that consists entirely of "Horrible!" or a worse word.

I got the following review on one of my books: "Couldn't even finish." That was it. I would have loved to know why. Without it, there's no way I can improve from this criticism, so I ignored it.

Likewise for mean-spirited criticism. Don't dwell on it, which I know is much easier said than done.

Never take criticism personally. Writers often pour their hearts and souls into writing. It's brilliant and beautiful, like a newborn baby, eyes full of sparkle and life. Then someone comes along and calls it crap.

If you put a lot of yourself into doing work you care about, it's easy to associate criticism of your work to criticism of you. That's almost never the case, so turn away from the knee-jerk feeling that your honor has been impugned. If you take criticism personally, you'll become angry and sad and won't last long as a writer.

Don't fall in love with your work (or yourself). This is a huge danger that snares many of us. Pro tip: Even though your mom, friends and the random five-star reviewer say so, you're not the greatest writer in the world. Neither am I. An overestimation of your talent leads to being defensive, which is a death sentence to your career.

Also, keep in mind this isn't a competition where only one person wins. …

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