Writer Wednesday: Criticism and Rejection

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sensitive about my work. I’ve been known to plot revenge on people that have criticized my writing, meticulously mapping out an Assassin’s Creed style infiltration-and-annihilation combo for those sorry souls that didn’t weep with joy at reading my beautiful prose.

Okay, not really, but criticism and rejection can hurt sometimes.

I pour a lot of hours into making my writing quality stuff, and it’s not always easy to stomach when someone dislikes it. It took me a really long time to even show people my work, and even then it was in flashes. I allowed people only brief glimpses—enough to prove that I am, indeed, a writer. Some time later, I started trusting my writing enough to let people read it. The blog came shortly after that.

I think it’s safe to say that every artist is protective of their work. Rightfully so! Art comes from deep within. It’s a piece of the artist’s soul. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always a piece. So, when people do anything but offer googly-eyed praise, it’s easy to feel personally attacked. That is totally okay. Rejection and negative critique are going to hurt. That’s just a part of the game.

But, here’s the good news. You can learn how to take it well.

Firstly, try to remember the context of the criticism or the rejection. If it’s coming from an esteemed writer, editor, publisher, or agent: remember that those people have experience, and that their critique is useful to you. This kind of critique and rejection, when provided in specifics, can help you identify where you need to improve. Personalized rejection is rarely offered from these gatekeepers unless they see potential for growth, and you should totally learn from what they have to say. If the rejection isn’t personalized, but it comes from one of these people, it most likely means you need to work on making your writing shine with your natural voice. It has to stand out. The only way to develop that is to keep on writing.

When receiving rejection or criticism from these kinds of people, remember that these are signs of your progress. There was a time when you had no finished work to submit. There was a time when you didn’t even have a first draft. You’ve come a long way! You’ve got your foot in the door, and you’re paying your dues! It will pay off if you keep on trying! There is a younger version of you that would scream in anger if they learned you were whining about a 1-star review on Amazon or strongly-worded blog comment. “At least people are reading what you’re writing!” they would surely shriek.

If the criticism is coming from a non-professional, then take it for what it’s worth. No matter how great your writing may be, there will naturally be people who don’t like it. (This actually applies to professional gatekeepers as well!) If the critique is coming from one of those people, shrug it off. It’s just not for them. You can’t help that. If it’s coming from someone else and it doesn’t seem like sound critique, then just forget about it. No point in dwelling on the negative or the unnecessary. But, if the critique makes sense and it might add something to your work, even if it hurts, then internalize it and see if you can implement it somehow. Allow your art the freedom to change if and when the change makes it better.

You don’t learn nearly as much from success as you do from failure. Ultimately, failure is what breeds mastery. If you can thicken your skin and remind yourself that criticism is a valuable tool for identifying areas of strengths/weakness, then you’ll be light years ahead of most artists. You’ll have evolved from someone who writes passionately into a professional-minded author, and that transition will make all the difference when it’s time to work with agents, editors, and publishers. (If you work with these people. Although, I’d still recommend hiring a professional editor if you want to self-publish.)

Secondly, remember that rejection is part of the process. It’s just one limb of the creature that is the art community. Famed Harry Potter author JK Rowling sent the first manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to two literary agents—the second of whom accepted the submission, and then sent it to twelve publishing houses before it was finally bought. That’s right. The first Harry Potter book, now cemented in history as one of the greatest children’s novels of all time, was rejected by eleven different publishers. Funnily enough, Rowling eventually decided to take on the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith to write non-Potter novels without worrying about hype or expectations surrounding her name. Those novels, too, were rejected numerous times. And this was after the Potter series became a global phenomenon.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding was rejected 20 times

Dune by Frank Herbert was rejected 23 times.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was rejected 26 times.

Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected 121 times.

J.R.R. Tolkien was denied the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature because, according to the voting board, The Lord of the Rings had “not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.”

I know it’s hard to take criticism. I struggle with it, too. The best thing to do about it—like with all things—is to practice. If you don’t already have one, join a writing group. You can find plenty online if you don’t have any physical ones nearby. (Social media is a great place to search for them.) Those early writing groups will be your crucible, and you’ll learn how to take criticism in a constructive way. You’ll also learn how to ignore the criticisms and rejections that don’t serve your betterment. And, honestly, no writer is an island. You’re going to need writing groups. Best to get in on one now.

I also suggest submitting your work to contests, magazines, scholarships. Anything and everything, as much as possible. You probably won’t win it all, but you’ll get better at dealing with loss, criticism, and rejection. And, you’ll win eventually. (That could also mean money! And publication!) This will also help you get way better as a writer, you’ll meet people that may help you later in your career, and you’ll get comfortable with the submission process.

Most importantly, write for yourself. Write because you love it. Because you enjoy it. The second you write for someone else’s opinion, or for a paycheck, or for any other reason other than it’s awesome, you will lose your unique voice. You’ll destroy the thing that makes your writing yours.

Believe in yourselves, my peeps. Your writing is great and it’s only going to get better. When those rejection slips start coming in, smile and picture that young, shrieking version of you. Learn to squeal with glee when the chips are down and raking in the pot will be ten times sweeter.

I love you all! Don’t give up!

— R.

Ronin bottles his sad tears and drinks them later for strength and immortality. You can find all his writing—the rejected and the successful—on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and WordPress. Check out his YouTube channel for neat videos at the end of every month!

Like, comment, and share to support this artist!

Teach peace.

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