How to cure the pain of criticism, bad reviews, and rejection.

Have you ever experienced the sting of someone expressing they didn’t like what you wrote?

Unless you’ve been writing in a cave and refusing to let anyone look at your stories (or only giving it to people who will mouth platitudes and “adore” everything you put to paper) then you probably answered “yes.”

No matter what stage in the writing tournament you reach, it still hurts.  It hurts to get a hard critique.  It stings like hell to get even a nice or “helpful” rejection letter.

And the moment you get your first “this book is so stupid I wanted to fling it against the wall” styled unfair review, especially on a public forum like Amazon? Hello, kick in the gut.

So what if I told you there’s a way to lessen that pain… maybe even eliminate it?

No, it does not involve a lobotomy, or even copious amounts of alcohol.

It also doesn’t include a Fight-Club styled plan to destroy Amazon, Goodreads, and all similar review sites.

The trick to detaching from the pain of rejection is to be able to think objectively.  To stop taking it personally by being able to look at any potentially helpful element, and then reiterating to yourself that “this is an opinion.  This is one person’s opinion.”

Or, my personal favorite:

There is no absolute, objective measurement for ‘suck.'”

Sounds nice and zen.  But how do you do that?

Here’s the catch.  To be able to detach from other people’s opinions, you need to detach from your own.

What does that mean?

It means no more slamming on the the latest book you “hated” because it was “trash,” even though you didn’t read it because you “couldn’t get through the first five pages.”

It means no more pronouncing the reading class as “stupid” because they enjoy things you can’t even imagine stomaching.

It means giving up the delicious, snarky feeling of self-righteousness and, let’s face it, superiority, when we judge someone else’s work.

That doesn’t mean we can’t offer our opinion or input, especially if it’s requested.  I’m not suggesting a world-wide gag on saying anything about anything.  But if you’re going to offer your opinion, try to be helpful — and let go of the idea that you’re right.

The hidden, barbed trap of judgment.

Here’s why it’s dangerous to say things like “that is hideous/stupid/whatever.”

When you say it, and really believe it… then you feel, on some level, that there are things that are good and things that are bad.

That’s why it hurts so incredibly much when someone criticizes our work, even unfairly.  We worry:  “if someone who doesn’t know me reads this, they are going to believe that my work is bad!  That I am bad!

Which is going to lead to any number of unpleasant possibilities:  loss of prestige, loss of friends, loss of emotional support.  Which can also lead to damaged self-esteem (yes, a loaded word.)

And we tend to give more weight to the negative.  Fifty positive reviews can be written off — especially if they’re from “people who are predisposed to like me” or, worse… people whose opinions “don’t actually matter/carry weight.”

When we criticize, our opinions have that weight.  When we slam someone else’s work, we are reinforcing the belief system:  we know that not only is there a land where terrible, stupid, objectively sucktastic things exist that deserve our ridicule… but we could somehow wind up there, deservedly, or not.

This is what leads us to fear submitting, or even writing.

This is what leads us to terrible depressions and the inability to look at reviews.

This is what turns us bitter and defensive, attacking the critic in turn — “well, that person is obviously an idiot, a bitter, jealous, total douchebag.”  It’s an attempt to defuse the problem, and one that only leads to more negativity, more judgment, and more fear.

The solution.

Remember, I promised you a cure.

I warn you, this is not easy.

The next time you see a book doing well that you absolutely loathe, on a conceptual level — one that you wouldn’t read with a gun to your head — silently close your eyes, and wish that author well.

Silently.  (I have friends from the South who say “bless his heart,” which apparently means something along the lines of “what an asshole.”  This isn’t that.)

Being realistic, you are not going to even remotely mean it the first, say, one hundred times.

Keep doing it.

It works if you work it.

Slowly, you’re going to find yourself feeling less injured by other people’s criticism.  You’re going to find yourself on the whole more calm, more relaxed, and more cushioned against rejection, reviews, and bad opinions.

There will be times when it slips — when you’ll go “Sasquatch Erotica?  Really?” with a disparaging roll of the eyes.  But it will be done in a blink.  It won’t be something that preys on you.  And you’ll be able to let it go without judging the work, the author, or the audience who enjoys it.

You don’t graduate.  It’s not like one day you will be the Dalai Lama.  But it will get better, every day.  And trust me, it’s worth it.

At least… that’s my opinion.

If you liked this article, you might also like:

3 Ways to Prevent Publishing Agony

What if you couldn’t screw it up?

5 things I learned by failing.

3 Replies to “How to cure the pain of criticism, bad reviews, and rejection.”

  1. Cathy,

    I am so impressed by your positivism! And I agree, wondering why other authors do well when we personally don’t care for the writing style or content is a futile exercise. I know, ’cause I’ve done it. It left me feeling bitter and angry … and did nothing good for me.

    Teddy Roosevelt said ‘Comparing oneself to others is the surest way to unhappiness.’ He was right, and so are you.

    The best way I’ve found out from under the weight of negativity is writing a rockin’ scene and/or doing something to encourage or help another writer.

    Do I still fall prey to
    comparison-itis? Um, yeah. On a regular basis. But I’m learning how to snap out of it.

    best,
    Cathryn Cade

  2. Each person is entitled to their opinion – and, as long as they don’t hurt other people, it stays that way. Opinion.

    I don’t know what I’ll do when (not if) someone doesn’t like my writing – and says so. Vocally and publicly.

    I guess I’ll be a grownup about it – and not go there to read it. Or just say something like – ‘thank you for reading – sorry it wasn’t to your taste.’

    Ask me in a year.

    The principle is good: pray for those who are different – if they are writers, at least in this day and age they may find their own kind of readers.

    In the past all they did was to get angrier.

    Alicia

  3. Hey, I missed this one, Teach. Very Zen-like indeed. You’re taking it to another level.

    I have a technique that seems to help. I remind myself how lucky I am. Much of the sting I’ve felt (so far) has been delivered by people I genuinely care about, and I sense that they actually care about and believe in me (you included). And when I do focus on that (and this is a great topic for the meditation sessions you prescribe), and I enumerate the ways I’m grateful,it’s an honest-to-God balm for the sting.

    So may I just publicly say: thank you, Cathy. I appreciate you, and I know I’m lucky to have you in my life.

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