How to Cope When Someone Attacks Your Writing


Image from Flickr by fakelvis

In all honestly Ali, the first paragraph was terrible… In grammar. I was gonna give advice, but it’s just to [sic] much to cover. I’ll give some anyways, though, since that’s what you asked for.

Ali, your lead paragraphs need work. I typically find that leads are the hardest part of an article to write. But mainly I think you are trying use a conversational style in the first two paragraphs. That’s okay, but your punctuation is not right, and thus it makes your writing choppy.

These are taken from two comments which I received on one of my guest posts, a month or so ago. It was a post about writing (which inevitably invites a few nitpickers!) – but I definitely hadn’t asked for a critique! A couple of them took it into their heads to provide one anyway.

I’ve been making money from blogging for over three years. I’ve written well over a thousand blog posts. I get paid, I get loads of lovely comments, I get guest posts accepted on blogs with hundreds of thousands of readers …

… and those comments still made me cry.

I’m writing about this today because I’ve seen a couple of writer-friends get hurt by unwarranted negative feedback recently – and I think this is a huge issue for anyone who’s brave enough to write, and to send their work out into the world.

When I saw those comments, I started second-guessing myself:

Maybe they’re right. I guess that lead paragraph could’ve been different. Perhaps I can’t really write at all, I’ve just been fooling people all along…

Of course, once I’d had a good night’s sleep, I realised that wasn’t true. I’d let a couple of complete strangers knock my writing confidence. Surely all the great feedback from my editors, my tutors, my writing workshop and my loyal readers mattered a bit more?

If you’re a writer, sooner or later, someone’s going to attack your work – and I know just how hard it is to think straight when that happens. It really helps to try to get some objectivity on the situation, by answering a couple of questions:

#1: Who’s Attacking You?

If your work has just been torn apart by your writing tutor, there may be some validity in their opinion. (Or there may not – we’ll come to that later.)

But if your blog post gets a nasty comment from a complete stranger, their opinion really doesn’t matter. Because:

  • They might have their own agenda to push. Perhaps they’re trying to look like they’re better than you in the hopes of selling their own writing services.
  • Perhaps they dislike your style. We all have different tastes as readers – but that doesn’t mean you should write in a way that tries to please everyone and offend no-one. All you’ll achieve is blandness.
  • They may know very little. Some people are good at sounding authoritative without having anything to back up their words.
  • They could be trolls. Some people get a sad little thrill from being nasty online, where they’ve got a cloak of anonymity.
  • They might be jealous. If you’ve published a novel or written a post on a popular blog, you’ve achieved something which many people only ever day-dream about.

It hurts to have your work attacked. It knocks your confidence and may well make you feel like you never want to write again. But if the person attacking you is a complete stranger, the chances are that their opinion is worth nothing.

If you need some reassurance, ask other writers to look at the feedback. (Ask me if you like – I’m @aliventures on Twitter or you can email Do they think it’s likely to be valid? Or is it just some internet loudmouth spouting off?

The really difficult times come, though, when your work gets attacked by someone who you respect, trust or see as authoritative – maybe another writer, a teacher, an editor or a publisher. If that happens, ask yourself:

#2: What’s Their Opinion on Other Work?

When I did my Masters, we had one tutor who gave harsh critiques of everyone’s writing. It hurt a fair few people at first – but once we realised that everyone was getting similarly bad feedback (in contrast to our feedback from other tutors), we found it easier to brush it off.

If you get a one-star review on Amazon, see what else that reviewer has written. Maybe they slate everything. Or maybe they give five-star ratings to books that you wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Either way, you’ll know that the review doesn’t say much about your work – it just tells you about that reader’s particular tastes.

You don’t have to believe anyone’s opinion. Just because someone is a tutor, editor, publisher or top reviewer on Amazon doesn’t mean that they’re always going to be right.

(And if you ever doubt that – read some of the rejection letters here.)

However much you tell yourself that the reviewer clearly hates all romance books or that the blog commenter is just a troll, having your work attacked still hurts. That’s hard, but it’s normal. You’re a writer. You care about those words – they came from within you, and they’re part of who you are.

So give yourself some time. Throw things. Cry. Eat chocolate. Print out the nasty comments and tear them into little pieces or burn them. Write a blazingly witty, devastating response (just don’t post it). Whatever will make you feel better.

And then get back to writing.

Don’t let anyone’s opinion stop you doing what you love.


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77 thoughts on “How to Cope When Someone Attacks Your Writing

  1. I also discovered another question to ask yourself – what has this person written themselves, if anything? I read the work of another writer who slated mine, and couldn’t help but see problems all over the place. If the person cannot obey the mechanics of writing themselves, then how can their opinion on your writing matter as much?
    Icy Sedgwick’s last blog post ..Book Review Jailbait Justice

    • Great one. Some people feel qualified to comment on writing despite not having any knowledge of it themselves. (I have no idea why!)

  2. I was taught english during one of the experimental periods of British education, and so I never learnt the rules of grammar, or, the differences between story writing (for an 8yr old) and essay writing (for 14+yr old). Punctuation was described as the brief pauses in the spoken word. Which brings me to my point; even good writers are open to critcism if they write in a conversational style, for the following reasons:-
    1. the best writers will accurately punctuate their sentences in line with their speech patterns.
    2. speech patterns, vary according to mood, or enthusiasm for a subject.
    3. speech patterns depend on where the writer learnt English.
    4. Whilst most British will recognise whether a speaker is from London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Norfolk, or Wales, I have met Americans who were unaware that their accent identified them as coming from the West Coast or that their accent was nothing like a New York accent or a typical Southern accent.

    So dont be overly worried about critisms of conversational pieces, not everyone recognises the subtleties of the English language or its rythms. To my mind the strict rules of Grammar that many have been taught, (especially those for whom English is a 2nd or 3rd language) are the written equivalent of RP (recieved pronuciation typically used on old BBC programs or by actors such as John Gielgud) easily understood but “stilted” and possibly pedantic.

    Your written pieces DO “sound” the way you speak, I hear the pauses, the thoughtfulness, the rush of words when you’re excited, you could be in the same room talking to me, it aint your fault you dont talk proper like wot I does 😉

    • Most of my grammar education came through French/German lessons — though 6 years on, little sis got a much more thorough grounding. But yes, I agree with you that the “rules” are often too formal and stilted. (As you can see, I’m not averse to starting sentences with “but”, for instance.)

      There are some cases where grammar really does matter — like having the correct tense, or making sure that the subject and verb match up — but most native English speakers get those right naturally, just like they would do when speaking.

      I’m glad I “sound” like I speak — I always think (hope?!) I’m more coherent in writing though 😉

      Ali (aka Fantastic Daughter-in-law) x

      • I believe I said, that you could be certain, that you are my favourite daughter (-in-law), but if you insist we can add the fantastic epithet. I would suggest a third but the only F that springs to this aged mind is ferret which means your fantastic father-in-law has foolishly failed to find further fulsome phrases of familial affection. And as I wish to retain that appelation, I must cautiously approach your last sentence, as it appears to be a trap akin to “does my bum look big in this?” so the nearest I will approach is to suggest that I have never witnessed you doing Newt impressions.
        P.S.Having read a number of other Blogs it seems to me that this form of writing is more suited to a conversational style, and maybe because of my awareness of accents, I find myself trying to guess where a writer is from.

        • Frabjous? I fear that’s not actually a word though…

          I think blogging is particularly well suited to a conversational style (the online world isn’t exactly very formal). There are a few phrases which help me spot where people are from, though that’s usually down to vocabulary choices rather than anything more subtle!

    • Doug, I agree wholeheartedly with your 4 points, especially the first one.

      Doug, I wholeheartedly agree with your 4 points, especially point 1. What the best writiers also do is to write narrative which matches their main character’s voice too, or the genre, or story type. This is something a lot of armchair crtics forget, or don’t seem to be aware of.

      Although I think some knowledge of how to construct a language when using it in narrative form is need, in order to craft it into the shape needed for the story, and to include readers, I think there’s a lot of guff blandered about regarding correct or incorrect form. For instance, I had an excerpt of mine criticised for poor spelling throughout, when, if the critic had read the story, they might have realised that I had used American spelling because this excerpt had been taken from a story set in America, with an American narrator. What’s more, this witty critic had thought to write their critique by mis-spelling their critique intentionally badly so that it was almost impossible to read – part of the criticism, I presume.

      The best thing to do is to ignore it, have a laugh, and if you care – thank them for taking the trouble in as unprovocative manner as your sarcasm can muster.

      Ali’s right too: Motive is often a driving force to most crticism of this kind. Agenda too.

      When it really cuts (I’m dyslexic too) I look upon it as free editing.

      • Ouch on the criticism, and the attempt at wit… completely unnecessary, and unhelpful. And I totally agree with you on trying to ignore it and having a laugh about it, too. Sometimes I have to remind myself that other people have their own agenda and their own reasons for offering a particular critique, and it may not necessarily have much to do with my actual writing!

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for about a month. I’m a technical writer, but a lot of your articles are still relevant to my work. Many of my friends have told me I should blog about my creative hobbies, but I have always been very reluctant to jump in. Why? You just hit the nail on the head. Back in the forum and newsgroup days, it seemed as if I always got criticism about my posts – someone always wanted to be smarter or wanted to sell a better methodology. Your article is enlightening, articulate, and encouraging on the subject of dealing with criticism and insults. Thanks so much for helping me rethink this often difficult emotional issue.

    • Thanks Eileen! I hope you do get the chance to stretch your writing muscles in some creative directions. You can always turn off comments on your blog (I did that with my first blog) — most people won’t make the effort to email in their critiques!

      Good luck if you do go for it. I know it’s scary and weird to put your work out there in such a public way (at least, it was for me at first) — but 99% of the comments and emails I get are encouraging and positive!

  4. Great article!!

    And as far as dealing with the nasty stuff? I keep a Word doc called “Ego Band-aids”, and any time someone pays me a compliment or I get a nice review, it goes in there. It sounds ridiculous and silly, but believe me, reading through that file can *really* help after someone gives me one of those “Oh, ouch…” comments.


  5. I am so scared of other people slating my writing that I periodically push myself to the edge of stopping writing altogether based on imaginary future comments that I may or may not get. Insane! And yet…

    So far, I’ve been lucky on my blog. I had a couple of (perfectly polite and constructive) comments on my last short regarding dialogue tags but that’s it, or at least all that’s stuck in my mind. No doubt when I publish a novel/novella/REALLY long shopping list I’ll get some less than polite and constructive feedback. As you say, it’s the way of the world. In the end, no matter how ‘qualified’ someone is to comment on your work, it’s their brain meeting yours. The two won’t necessarily have anything in common.
    Anne-Mhairi Simpson’s last blog post ..Earth and Sky – The Elemental Races 2 What happens next

    • Writers are allowed to be a *little* insane… 😉

      Having said that, don’t stop writing! I suspect you’ll find that it gets easier and easier to bear feedback as you get better (and it’s great that you’re responding so well to constructive criticism). Great point about writing-and-reading being a meeting of brains … often I find that the people who scoff at my writing are people who, frankly, I’d never exactly be bestest friends with…

    • Silence is a tough one! In my experience it usually means “the client is perfectly happy with this”. Sadly, people don’t always remember to give feedback when something’s working well…

  6. This is such a relevant posting Ali.

    I belong to a large, public writers circle where we have people of all levels coming along. Some members are ex-teachers, who are most often sticklers for certain things; others are people who get stories and the like published and then feel that they can crash and burn ‘less experienced’ writers. Sometimes I get the feeling that people make critical comments almost because they feel they HAVE to, rather than because there is something wrong with a piece of writing. In a circle like ours I believe people should be encouraged; many are getting back into writing for the first time since they left school, and I feel strongly that you can kill a budding writer with some of the criticisms I have heard. It is not that everyone wishes to become published, but they should feel encouragement.

    Someone said to me, remember that if a person criticises/critiques your work if is ONLY their OWN point of view and you do not have to take it onboard. As you correctly say, it is often difficult not to, and if you are writing something to be submitted to a competition or similar, you can find yourself editing your work so much that the story loses all its vibrancy and meaning – you, the writer, can no longer ‘see’ the story you are telling, because it has become sanitised to the nth degree.

    Looking at those two comments anyway, I see mistakes in both, and I am not necessarily talking grammar either. The fact that they had the cheek to criticise your writing and have mistakes in their comments covers their faces and opinions in rotten tomatoes as far as I am concerned.

    If anyone, as a writer, ever feel nervous about having someone pass comment on their writing, I suggest they find a writing buddy. Find someone you trust, who you know will read your work and point out more valid things, such as using a word too many times for example. That is constructive. As an example, I sent a story to a friend of mine, who sent it back with comments at the top that, as she put it, I could take note of or not – it was my choice. One thing she pointed out was that I used the word ‘had’ a lot. I went through the story and sure enough it jumped out at me and I found I was able to edit my story properly.

    As you say, Ali, readers are all different, and so are writers. We are not clones and that is why there are so many genres of stories and articles. I LOVE Stephen King, but many people loathe him and his writing. They find him creepy or don’t like the genre, maybe even don’t respect writers like him, because he is not writing ‘serious’ stuff. Yet he is a very successful writer. The same goes for J.K. Rowling. There are plenty of ‘serious’ writers and the like who have slated her books.

    At the end of the day we write to entertain others, we have stories or blogs or essays in our heads that have to come out. Those that do not like one person’s stories do not need to buy or read them.

    • Corinna, this sounds like a tough group to be part of. My own critique group tends to be pretty nitpicky about individual words/sentences, but they’re always encouraging and supportive (and people often say things like “If this is all we can find to pick on, you know it’s fantastic really!”)

      Whenever I’m giving feedback — online, as a coach or in a writers’ group — I try to tailor it to the person. It’s usually obvious if someone’s pretty new to writing, and I try to be encouraging but also point out areas where they can easily improve. If someone’s an old hand, I’m more critical.

      I think finding a writing buddy is an excellent idea, especially as there’s a good chance they’ll end up reading several pieces of your work. It can be tough in critique groups if you only get to share a couple of pages every month or every fortnight — it’s often not enough for other members to really get a sense of your overall aims.

      I find it really hard to get into Stephen King books, though I loved his “On Writing” (and I think he’s a good writer — I just prefer shorter, pacier novels).

      • The group as a whole is not too bad, but like anything, and as mentioned in some of the comments, there are always those who feel it their duty…

        This particular group is open and held at rooms at the local library, and we get the rooms and tea equipment free, as we do not charge to come to the group; just a donation for tea. This means that we have a lot of new people coming along – we advertise in the local paper periodically. Most of us encourage people who have only just started writing or who are not sure if their writing is any good, how to publish and so on. We even put together a writers workshop at the Cape Town Centre for the Book, and we were overwhelmed and could not accomodate all the people who wanted to attend – we made no charge for it.

        When you start writing you are often not sure if you are ‘doing it right’ and amongst other things we have writing exercises each month and a writing box, where the subject is normally chosen at the monthly meeting. The following month each person can bring along a piece of wrting of 700 – 800 words, on that topic, to put in the Writing Box. 3 pieces are randomly picked and the writer reads their own work. This is when people comment/critique, and as I say, I think occasionally the odd comments could do with not having been made. But on the whole we give positive feedback and encouragement. There is almost a mentoring atmosphere. We have all ‘been there’. Those who do not get their piece read out can send it via our chair to me, and I will put it on the website. We are trying to encourage more to put their work up each month, warts and all, as people from around the world find the website and interact with us.

        We also have national and international courses and competitions on our site for people to access.

        Using a writing buddy, someone you know and whose judgement you respect can make a big difference to your confidence too, I think. A story/article has come from your core, it has your personality stamped on it, and having the work criticised can make you feel that the person is attacking you, because they are criticising YOUR writing, your way of putting things across.

        And all those that commented here and said that internet writiing tends to be more informal are correct. If I read a travel blog or article I would much rather read a friendly ‘you and me’ style than a bulleted, factual writeup. If you write from the heart, you pull people in and they can ‘see, hear and feel’ what you are getting across in your writing.

        I also loved “On Writing”, and have a copy. I have fairly eclectic tastes in genres and sizes of novels and the like, but I know what you mean. My favourite of his is The Stand, and that is long.

        Seems I am being a tad garrulous, heheh. If anyone is interested I can give you the web address. Maybe there are others out there who would like to start such a group.
        Corinna’s last blog post ..Heavens! What have I been doing

        • Wow, sounds like a great way of doing a group so that new members can easily drop in and be welcomed. By all means leave us the website address – you can just pop it in a comment here (if my over-zealous spam filter eats your comment, just let me know and I’ll find it and approve it!)

          My own group (nine members) is pretty much at capacity — we usually have around 6 pieces being read and critiqued at each meeting. The good side is that some of us have been in the group for years, and we know one another’s style well — and know how much to push one another forwards! I guess the drawback is that it’s possible for a group to get a bit stuck in one routine like that, and our resources are pretty limited.

    • Your writer’s group sounds similar to those I used to frequent when first setting out on the writing path. While many I met there were genuine, keen and constructive, intent on offering helpful and useful advice, a few were egomaniacs. One was possibly psychotic!

      English teachers, how do I love thee, let me count the ways! The only English teacher, later English Language expert, who ever inspired and encouraged me was my late father. His advice was: “Some people just like to talk a lot to make up for the space!”

      I’m dyslexic. I spent most of my secondary schooling (allbeit in a 5th rate independant boys school) in the dunces class – sorry B-stream – press-ganged into doing CSEs rather than O’Levels. Luckily, punk rock happened and I was saved – another story!

      But really, I think a lot of unhelpful non-constructive criticism comes from people who mistake Quality as having to match their own taste. Stephen King is very popular with readers. So is Dickens (though possibly not with me). What matters is that each writer who creates stories readers love to read, does so in order to give enjoyment and entertainment to all those who enjoy their stories.

      • I’m not all that keen on Dickens, either … much prefer Jane Austen and George Eliot. And I agree with you, Tom, people can get very blinkered about what “good” writing is. You have to judge a piece of work on its own terms, not on whether you like it.

        I’ve, thankfully, been very lucky in my writing groups — but I can certainly see how things could go badly with the wrong people…

    • Cheers Deborah! And yeah, whatever you put out into the world, *someone’s* going to dislike it…

  7. Ali,

    I appreciate your point of view. Thanks for writing this post, but I am a little surprised that you cried when you received criticism about your writing.

    Why take it personally? Why invest emotionally in your work? Instead, me thinks it would better to approach your work in a detached way–with balance, poise and objectivity. If others don’t like it, they need not read your work.

    As you know, I have been a supporter of your work. I think you are one of the best writers out there, on-line.
    Personally, I would ask the question: What can I learn from my critics? How can I improve my craft? If the criticism is valid, try to incorporate it in your work. If not, ignore your critics. Does this sound workable or not?

    Having said that, this is easier said than done. It is difficult to put your ego aside when people criticie your work. Emotionally, we tend to invest in the work we do, but it is a shame if you allow your critics to get the better of you.
    Chin up, smile, laugh and don’t allow them to spoil your day. Best wishes to your writing life, as always. Cheers.

    • I certainly *try* to be objective, and it’s much easier to be when I’ve asked for feedback.

      What made me cry was:
      – These comments felt deliberately nasty — like personal attacks
      – This was a guest post on a big blog that I’d not written for in a while, and I was worried I wouldn’t be welcome back!
      – I get paid to write blog posts and I was worried what my editors might think if they saw the comments (maybe they’d decide I wasn’t so good after all)

      Now, I know those last two points were really silly things to worry about, but it’s hard not to let things like that go through your mind. I was also pretty tired after getting back from South by South West.

      It didn’t upset me for long, and I picked myself up again though. 🙂 And next time, I’ll try to take my own advice and not let it get to me!

  8. You have to think about where the criticism is coming from, also, and if the purpose of it is to help you improve, or if there’s another agenda there. I had someone in my family make a remark concerning a piece I wrote just for fun, and shared with them because I thought they’d enjoy it. The person in question was told there were flaws in the piece, I knew about them, and please just enjoy it. Of course, she had to make a criticism because that’s what she does. I had to remember that it’s the way she is. Her little nit-pick regarding a grammar issue was wrong anyway. Ha!

    • Yes, unfortunately some people just *cannot* resist pointing out the flaws! At least you know it’s more about your relative than about you…

  9. I think if all someone has left to complain about is a missed period here or a misspelling there, then that’s probably a good thing. Sometimes writers (myself included) get so caught up in something they are passionate about that they miss the finer points because they’re so excited to share a new thought, idea, strategy, etc. with everyone. I got hit with a few of those criticisms about my eBook, but overall, I remembered the other great compliments I had about it, and how those people were just happy to get the information I shared with them.

    Motivation for criticism could be from anything, but I’d be in most cases, unless they have a Doctorate in English, it stems from a little bit of subconscious jealousy. They think they are so perfect that it should be them with a great guest post spot instead of someone else. I remember one of my worst critics was someone who (not to sound snobby, but it kind of will) started out at the same time I did in blogging and watched me get ahead. As I did get ahead (more traffic, followers, etc.), they started criticizing the way I did things. Then they fell off the radar altogether.

    And some people in general just feel better about their lives if they can make someone else feel worse about theirs. So I say the next time you encounter something like that, just remember all of the people who love what you do and know that those people outrank the nit-picker any day of the week!
    Kristi Hines’s last blog post ..10 SEO &amp Design Mistakes That Could Get You in Trouble

    • Kristi, I think there’s definitely an element of jealousy sometimes. Often, the harshest critics are people who’ve never put their work out there — perhaps they’re jealous that you have the courage or the willpower do do that.

      Some people will feel threatened, too, if they see anyone else being successful in something that *they* secretly want to do.

      I think for non-fiction, the message and information is what matters, and the occasional typo isn’t the end of the world. For fiction, I spend a lot more time proof-reading because tiny errors can really jog a reader out of the story (and then I feel complaints are justified!)

  10. Ali,

    You also need to take into account that a reader may be having a bad day at the office. Meaning, such a reader is likely to be in a bad mood. We have also encountered people like that in our lives. Such people can be nasty and take their frustrations out on you. It is human nature to want to find a scapegoat when you are having an off day. I have noticed this time and again on forums. You will also find that such negative people may be suffering from medical conditions, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, heart problems, etc. It is very difficult for such people to keep their emotions under control. Again, I am only speculating why people behave the way they do based on my own experiences coupled with what has been documented in books and novels. By the way: by attacking your writing, such people may find temporary relief. It can give them the experience of catharsis. However, it is unfortunate that such people cannot find more creative outlets. Negative energy can be redirected, after all, or channeled into activities like sports or yoga that are known to reduce stress and tension. Just something for you to think about so you don’t take such attacks personally or at least know why it occurs.
    Have a nice day and best wishes, as always, on your writing career. You are sure to go places. Cheers.

    • Great point — sometimes, someone’s just having a really bad day. I try to remember that when I get occasional negative emails or comments. And yeah, I see this behaviour in plenty of books and novels too (aren’t they great for insights into how people’s minds work?) Thanks for your encouragements, as ever! 🙂

  11. I can totally relate. It’s really hard to take feedback. I once got awful criticism from someone who was very harsh, and it turned out most of the advice and edits they gave me were terrible. On the other hand, you don’t want nice editors either who just say they love everything. It’s a tricky balance.
    McKenzie McCann’s last blog post ..1675-1775

    • Ouch… I think that’s the absolutely worst type of criticism, because it can lead to you destroying a good piece of writing. Any time you get a bad review, find someone else to give you a second opinion before you do anything drastic!

      It is indeed a tricky balance — I try to always mention positive things and point out what’s working, as well as suggesting tweaks for improvement.

  12. Ouch, thanks for being honest here Ali. I know I take many harsh critiques personally, but I really agree with what you say that it’s more about their personal taste than your lack of talent (mostly).

    At the end of the day, I have to take on board the comments of people who I know, like and trust – like yourself – versus strangers who have their own varying opinions and taste [or lack thereof].

    Also: nobody has the right to make you cry. Nobody. *hug*
    Andy Hayes’s last blog post ..Interview with Lainie Liberti

    • Awww, cheers Andy. 🙂 And yeah, I value all the hundreds (or possibly thousands by now…) of comments here on Aliventures, the emails which I get, the Twitter friends who respond to my writing … all that far, far outweighs some stranger’s weird little rant!

    • Aww, cheers Farouk, That’s a great and inspiring post, and what a fantastic story to be able to tell! I think it just goes to show that we should always be respectful to people, even if they seem like they don’t have much influence … you never know where they’ll end up a few short years later!

  13. Like Andy said…Ouch! I would want to cry too. What writer wants to be on the end of an attack like that. Because writing is so personal to me, I too, would take an attack personally, at first…but I like the way handled the criticism in the end.

    I think you’re a great writer, and who is perfect anyhow? Also, there are always going to be critics.They should have remembered the old saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”. What ever happened to positive criticism?

    You’re putting your writing out there everyday, that takes a lot of courage : )
    Zac’s last blog post ..Instant Confidence in 10 minutes for under 5

    • It wasn’t even an especially personal piece … but I guess writing is so bound up in my identity (I’ve thought of myself as “a writer” since I was about 14) that it really knocks *me* to have my writing attacked.

      I still have plenty to learn about writing — and something I’m learning fast is that however good I am, some people will love my work and some people will hate it. In fact, to *be* any good, I think you have to be willing to really turn off some people. Otherwise you’d just be … unobjectionable and bland. And I’d rather be at least a little memorable…

    • Awesome, glad it helped, Faisal! And keep writing (and learning about writing), that’s how you’ll improve your grammar. 🙂

  14. Hi Ali,

    Rejection is a tough one because we’re raised with such thin skins. That’s where the rejection starts. I used to almost fall apart when someone said something negative about my writing. Took it personally because I did have such a thin skin.

    At this point, if someone has a problem with it I’ve developed the ability to step back and
    a) look for the truth in what they said. I have improved my writing through critiques
    b) look for the untruth in what they said. Sometimes in my gut I don’t agree with it.

    Then I try and blend the two. Without any critiques, I’d probably still be an unpublished writer.

    We live in a “it has to be right the first time” world and if we can change that, we won’t be afraid to try in the first place or be upset when someone disagrees with us.

    Enjoyed the post! g.
    Giulietta Nardone’s last blog post ..Walking Ten Miles in Someone Else’s Shoes

    • I’m not great at responding to attacks — I got bullied as a kid/teenager and found that hard to get over 🙁 When it comes to my writing, I’m actually relatively thick-skinned in comparison — but I like to receive criticism that I’ve requested, not randomly in comments!

      Great point about looking for the truth / not-truth. For me, it’s about figuring out whether I’ve *really* told the story I wanted to tell (in fiction) — and sometimes my wise writer friends are better at spotting that than I am myself.

  15. Ouch! I’m sure those words did sting.

    You’re right needed Ali, to be a good a writer you need two things: (1) something to say and (2) thick skin. These two things don’t always live in harmony, but over time become inseparable.

    Thanks for your leadership in showing us how to be consistent and true to our writing – no matter what others may say.


    • Thanks Alex! I feel like there’s another topic bubbling away here (prompted by Giulietta’s comment above) about distinguishing the good and the bad in feedback…

  16. Thanks for writing this. I think I was assuming that once you’ve been writing and getting things published for a long time, you’re impervious to the nasty remarks. I’m both glad and sorry to hear that’s not necessarily the case!

    It is hard to hear what people don’t like about your stuff, whether they have a point or not, whether it has anything to do with you or not. When I released my ebook, I sincerely asked for everyone’s honest feedback… but what I realized when I got some very nice, constructive, well meant negative feedback was that I truly hadn’t imagined anyone’s honest feedback being anything other than “A million thanks for writing this book! It is the best thing ever, and I’ve been waiting for it all my life!” lol

    Everyone says if you’re not scared to hit “publish,” you’re holding back, and as soon as you start having some success, jerks will inevitably show up to trash-talk you. I haven’t run into that yet, but I’m sure it will happen to me eventually. Thanks for this post in preparation.
    Cara Stein’s last blog post ..6 Common mistakes that can ruin your relationship

    • I doubt that anyone ever feels completely blasé about nasty remarks, though it definitely does get a bit easier as time goes on.

      And great point about asking for “honest feedback” — I think it’s sometimes very tough to recognise that some people’s honest feedback won’t be quite the glowing praise we’d hoped!

  17. Loved this post Ali, I really did. What I thought about was the fact that nobody cares if you’re a good writer or not unless you’ve garnered a name and success. Any criticism you now receive is purely a sign that you’ve reached a point of success and respect, so well done lady! Oh, and btw, your writing rocks. I love your stuff and imo it’s one of the best on the web, and I read quite a bit 😉

    Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion’s last blog post ..Dear Twitter- I’m Sorry I Hated Your Stinking Guts

    • Cheers, Marcus! Really glad you’re enjoying my writing. 🙂

      I think criticism is part of having your work “out there” as a writer — some people won’t like what you’ve written (which is fine) and sadly, a few may decide to be quite destructively critical. It’s something I’m getting more used to…

  18. Anyone who writes for a living is not going to weep when criticized, or go through a 10-step process where every step involve dismissing the criticism.

    You’re leaving out an obvious and important step: THEY MAY BE RIGHT.

    If I hand a piece to a fellow writer and they don’t bleed red on the page, I find the heaviest object that’s nearby and beat them about the head, because it’s their job to make it better. That doesn’t make me cry. I makes me happy. Because everybody needs an editor.

    • It’s true that they may be right — and I actually had that point in the outline of this post.

      I realised, though, that I wanted to focus here on being *attacked* — not “when you ask for feedback and the feedback suggests your manuscript isn’t pure gold” but “when you publish a blog post (ebook/novel/etc) and someone pops up out of the blue to tell you that you can’t write”.

      I absolutely want my writing to constantly be getting better, and that’s why I’m a member of two writing critique groups, and why I’m paying to have my novel edited! None of that upsets me — what upsets me is unwarranted (especially public) attacks on my writing, and that’s what I was addressing in this post, having seen a couple of authors go through something similar.

  19. We all know that as writers we should have thick skins, but I don’t think that has to mean we aren’t allowed to be upset by criticism. I find myself amused by some criticism I’ve received (and thinking about some criticism I will undoubtedly receive) because I know some people just don’t GET it, but we’ve all had those comments that really just get under our skin because they seem out of the blue or counter to the way we see things or whatever.

    I was recently evaluated (unfairly so, IMHO) at my job, and the official evaluation document had “needs improvement” for the two things I did NOT expect to be criticized for. Did I cry? Hell yes, I did. Was I allowed to cry? Hell yes, I was. I felt like it was a personal attack. It’s natural. After I got done being mad and upset, I took a step back to figure out what the evaluation was really saying, and I considered ways I could address the evaluator’s concerns. THAT, to me, is what having a thick skin is. Not being completely impenetrable, but not allowing criticism, even harsh criticism, to cripple you.
    Vivien Weaver’s last blog post ..Writing patterns

    • Great points, Vivian. I think that bouncing back from criticism is important — and sometimes the criticism *is* valid, however much we might wish it wasn’t!

  20. Looking at this objectively, if you’ve been invited (and paid) to write hundreds of blog posts, then people like your writing. If someone wants to offer up constructive and balanced criticism, then it’s probably worth reading their comments with an open mind, but the most experienced, skilled editors know how to make this sound balanced and helpful rather than personal or all negative — and it’s worth bearing in mind that if someone takes the time to produce useful, thoughtful criticism, they think you are worth their time.
    Martha’s last blog post ..Words for Breakfast and why we love longlists and Tania Hershman

    • I’m certainly in favour of constructive and balanced criticism, and I often encourage writers to seek out a workshop group where they can learn to both give and receive critiques. I think this is an invaluable way to grow as a writer: you not only get feedback on your work, you also learn to spot (and *explain*) the good bits and the problems in other people’s work.

  21. Ali,

    As a writer, I think it is important to learn how to distinguish between a personal attack and constructive criticism.

    Ideally, constructive criticism should be viewed objectively and in a balanced way. Your critics are there to help you improve your work, after all. They want you to get better. That’s why they spend so much time, money and energy correcting your mistakes and offering their suggestions. Over time, this will make you a better writer.

    In contrast, personal attacks are usually motivated by something else. Unfortunately, it seems like the human race is plagued by finger pointers, fault finders and people who play games of one upmanship. They may want to belittle you to feel better about themselves. They may want to play the blame game to compensate for their limitations. They may want to insult or humiliate you in order to get a better deal or steal away your clients. We see this in politics all the time, but we are also witness to this in any line of work. It is human nature.

    I hope you are able to stay away from such people. Instead, it is better to focus on your work. Invest in yourself and grow both personally and professionally. Earn another degree or diploma. Write another book. Get paid for guest blogs. Help a client. If we worry too much about the rudities and crudities of this world, well, it can be a stumbling block. Pretty soon, we lose our sense of composure and our peace of mind. Cheers to your life.

    • Cheers Archan. I certainly try to view critiques in a balanced way, and I very much appreciate the time and energy that many friends/colleagues have put into helping me improve my writing!

      Like you say, personal attacks (or unnecessarily nasty critiques) are different: they’re not aimed at helping writers to grow, but tend to have some other agenda.

      And thanks for your encouragement. I’m not sure I’ll be taking another degree any time soon, but I’ll certainly keep on writing and trying new things!

  22. Don’t feel bad.
    I was pumping gas at BJ’s and I noticed a sign on the pump. It said, “Do not loan your membership card to others.” Someone took a red pen and marked through the word loan and wrote the word lend. Critics are everywhere. So just love them and thank them for their interest. Ha.
    Gene Markland’s last blog post ..New Devotion on CBNcom

    • Some people clearly find it *really* hard to walk past a mistake! Thanks Gene, that made me smile. 🙂

    • I find it hard to focus on writing which feels very stilted or clumsy — if I’m constantly re-reading sentences to figure out what the writer means, it’s really difficult to get “into” a piece. I don’t worry about the odd typo or spelling mistake when I’m reading a blog post (goodness knows, we all make them!) — it’s more about the overall flow for me.

  23. Writing is a subjective matter. You are always going to get negative feedback no matter who you are or what you write. So the only person whose opinion matters is yours. If you are truly proud of the work you’ve done and you cannot make it any better then you should be proud of your achievement.

    • That’s true, and very much worth remembering; we can only do our best. I think feedback is a huge part of a writer’s growth … but ultimately, if it comes down to a matter of opinion, it’s the author’s opinion which has to win out!

  24. Ali,

    I am a writer myself, although not quite as rich and famous as a certain William Shakespeare……….yet.

    Jokes aside, this account may be of interest to you and your readers. In those days, I tended to hang out with like-minded people, that is, artists. We were a bohemian group and discussed literature and music and…you get the picture?

    Well, one of my friends meets the local editor of a newspaper. This editor just refused to publish my friend’s work, no matter how hard he tried. His submissions were almost always rejected. It was a really famous newspaper. A brand name one.

    And the editor tells him–to his face–“Give up. You have no writing in you.”

    My friend, a writer, felt crushed, but he did not give up. He did not give in to his personal demons. The editor, needless to say, moved on. My friend, on the other hand, has become a columnist and has taken his work national. He has become quite a well known name–a local celebrity–and reports that people recognize him when he is out and about. The editor who discouraged him no longer lives in our neck of the woods–good for him.

    If there is any consolation prize, you deserve it–and so does my friend. Sometimes, editors, agents and publishers are too quick or hasty in dismissing quality work from a budding literary artist. So, writers should not feel discouraged by the constant rejections. My friend is a force to reckon with despite the odds against him.
    Only goes to show that fortune favours the bold and persistence pays. Hope this helps your cause too. Cheerio.

    • Thanks Archan! Great to hear how your friend triumphed — and I’m sure there are plenty of fantastic writers out there who’ve been turned down by editors, but who have some brilliant things to say.

      I definitely think persistence pays off, and that to a large extent, we make our own luck…

  25. Whoever came up with the proverb ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ was so so wrong! I sympathise with the gratuitous nastiness of those comments to you Ali – you’re a great writer with a natural facility for engaging with your audience. The person who suggested the ‘ego band-aid’ was on the right track because the irony is that when we recall the responses to our work it’s always the negative ones which jump to mind first. As a writing teacher and editor I do try very hard to balance kindness with honesty, and whenever I draw a client’s attention to a problem it’s with positive suggestions for how to make things better. As writers, it’s true, our work is bound up with our sense of self, so to strike at the words is to strike at the person – but, as you mention, indiscriminate praise when the work doesn’t really merit it doesn’t help the writer in terms of self-knowledge or progress in writing skills.

    • Thanks Lorna!

      It’s so tricky … I *know* that I should be objective and separate my writing from me-as-a-person … but the thing is, writing comes from somewhere incredibly personal. I guess it’d be different if I just did technical writing or copywriting, but blogging and fiction require an awful lot of heart and guts.

      I think you’re far too lovely to ever be overly critical! I really like the way you explain your philosophy of critiquing on Fiction Fire — I’m sure it’s reassuring to nervous would-be clients who’re scared of having their work torn apart.

      One technique I’ve used (and had used on me!) is to “sandwich” criticism between positive feedback: I’ll start by making some overall positive points, then give some suggestions for potential changes and improvements, then sum up with something positive again.

      • Thanks for your lovely comments, Ali! I think that the ‘sandwich’ technique comes naturally to anybody who wishes to be kind but fair – and who has had to experience positive and negative feedback themselves. Also, giving practical strategies to help with problems is certainly a way to help your client to see that this is a learning process – and any writer worth their salt knows that the learning process never ceases. I’ve said elsewhere that in my experience the best writers are the ones with the humility to know they’re not perfect and with a hunger to learn they are much more likely to fulfil their potential than the ones who are aggressive, stubborn and arrogant.

        • Yes – I’ve always been a little bemused by the occasional member of a writing group who’ll be *completely* resistant to any criticism. To me, the whole point of taking a piece of writing along is so that fellow writers will make helpful suggestions!

          I find that I can see the progress in my own writing, year after year — but I can also see the flaws better too!

  26. Ali, thank you so much for writing this post and for sharing such candor and honest and vulnerability – I have certainly been hurt or a bit angry when people have unsubscribed for strange reasons but I have been so lucky (knock on wood) that no one has ripped my writing into shreds except my younger brother (and that’s by design, he’s my editor). I hope that you take your own advice to heart and save those precious tears for better occasions because others criticize often for the very reasons you say here. And you have more than enough fans to prove how much you are loved and how far your writing reaches but just in case, you have a big one in me.
    Farnoosh’s last blog post ..You- Your Travel Fears and The Fear-Crushing Travel Guide

    • Thanks, Farnoosh! I’m glad it was helpful. And huge thanks for your encouragement too, I’m truly touched 🙂

      It’s so hard to take our own advice sometimes, isn’t it? But next time my writing gets attacked (and I know it will — I’m putting more and more of my work out there), I’ll try to be ready!

  27. Nice post Ali. Just made use of the advice today. Yes, there do seem to be a lot of strangers with agendas out there. Especially funny when they decline to submit some of their writing for comparison. Easier to critique than step in the arena.

    • Glad the post was helpful, Chris — though I’m sorry you needed it. I wish the online world could be a nicer place at times! It’s a shame that some people seem to get a buzz from attacking others’ work. Hope you bounced back from it okay.

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