Friday, August 27

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, August 27, 2010 18 comments
Putting ourselves out there to be evaluated by others--whether it's for critique partners or blog readers or agents and editors or the reading public--will involve risk every time. We may get all negative feedback, all positive or a mixed bag. Any of these scenarios has the power to eviscerate our productivity, though. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield offers this wisdom for keeping forward movement and using criticism well:

The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next will be better, and the one after better still.
The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she'll improve it. Where it triumphed, she'll make it better still. She'll work harder. She'll be back tomorrow. (88)

Pressfield goes on to talk about the proper place of criticism and our work. We use it to change and grow, but don't let it feed our inner insecurities. Because that inner force that Pressfield calls "Resistance" wants more than anything for us to quit this whole writing business altogether.

I especially like the hope Pressfield offers here about our creative selves--that we're capable of many projects, thus success or failure on the work du jour should never have the power to make or break us. The amazing future-you will come into being as long as you keep showing up and working.

Have you struggled with crushing doubt in the face of criticism? What helped you pick up and move on?

If you could meet your future self, what would you ask her? What wisdom do you hope she'll have for you?


In other news, I'll be posting news about a 202 followers celebration next week. Stay tuned!


  1. I think if you put yourself out there once or twice, it gets easier. It's like jumping into the swimming pool the first time. It's difficult at first but once you do... it warms up to you.


  2. "Have you finished that revision yet?" Hopefully, I’ll answer yes.

  3. The more critiques I get the easier it is to take. Sure the bad ones still hurt -- a little but I know it will help me become a better writer. Hopefully. :) I usually eat some chocolate and then try and write. Whether it is what I had critiqued or something else.
    If I could meet my future self I would ask--What techniques does my future self use to revise efficiently?
    Hopefully, I would have an answer.
    Have a great weekend!

  4. Wow! This was the perfect post for me today. Thanks!

  5. It's so hard not to fold in the face of criticism. I'm not strong yet, but I'm getting stronger!

  6. Wow. Well, I've cried about it before, but never felt like giving up. Please don't tell me that's what I have to look forward to?

  7. Great post!! I admit, there have been times I've wanted to give up...but since then I have grown a lot. But I have yet to receive a bad review of my published work. In the past, it's always been rejections on the unpublished stuff. I guess I'll have to see just how tough I've become when a negative comment comes in about my book!

  8. When I submit work before my writer's group it helps when I know what the others read. It helps me to place more value on some critiques and distance myself from others. While there is general agreement on "good writing," some people are more attuned to some aspects of the process, and others identify with different aspects. There is a girl who is big on description, so when she spots a place where I am sparse on description, I ask her what she wants to see and give weight to the feedback. A good friend (who is a reader not a writer) identifies plot holes, so I'm feeding her larger pieces :D

    When I was younger, I reacted too strongly to the critiques I earned in my very first crit. group. My project was completely derailed. I now have two manuscripts rather than one, deriving from the original (rough) story. What I've had to sort out is my own writing philosophy so that I had the strength to stick to guns when it's important. It's important to me that agents, editors, and published writers inform this perspective.

    My latest rewrite has soooo much more potential than any earlier draft, resulting from me finally being able to sort this out successfully. And it FINALLY sounds like me again...

  9. I think this is what is truly meant by learning to take rejection. It doesn't mean survival by ignoring rejection, but survival by learning from it.
    I divide rejection into two kinds. There's the boilerplate "sorry this is not what we're looking for we wish you luck in the future." This is a slap in the face initally but it passes quickly; in a few months you hardly remember it.
    The other kind is "we like X, Y and Z but..." At first you're kind of happy you got a personal letter. Six months later you find yourself lying awake in the middle of the night still turning over the words and maybe realizing,"oh, so that's what that meant."
    Much more painful, but ultimately I owe more to those personal rejections.

  10. Crushing doubt in the face of criticism? Er...why do you think I drink so much at our writers' group meetings? *cough*

    Okay, that's not true. I don't struggle with crushing doubt, really.

    However, if I could meet my future self, I'd ask tell him, since he's apparently mastered time travel, to go back and tell my 17 yo self that majoring in Creative Writing or Literature would've been a lot more fulfilling in the long run. Yeah.


  11. When I first started out, I had a writing partner. In the end it wasn't a good fit and we went our separate ways (my choice). I could have easily given up and said I tried - moved on. Instead I dived feet first into the next book.

    How did I get past that first hurdle? I felt my voice had been buried in the compilation (1st book) and truly believed on my own I could shine. In the end if you don't believe in yourself, you become your own worst critic. (Hugs)Indigo

  12. The criticism is never hard for me. It's the mountain of work I know is needed afterward to make the novel pop that gets me down. Sometimes I feel paralyzed by the sheer amount I need to do because I can't see the end if it--there'll always be one more thing to fix, one more thing to go through the MS for.

    I do the only thing I can--make a list of everything needing to be fixed and pick a place to start. Then, as each item is crossed off, the load gets a little lighter. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  13. Good questions! Though criticism stings, it does spur me on to move ahead and improve. What would I ask my future self? I'll have to think on that one!
    Have a great weekend,

  14. Thank you for this post, and for posting that quote. Critiques are hard, mostly because they're usually right on, and it's hard to think that after all that work, there's still more that needs to be changed. But everyone has to start somewhere, and no one writes a perfect MS on their first try.

  15. In the face of criticism I believe I'll evolve and become a better writer. I never thought about giving up.

    Have a great Sunday.

  16. When I come back from 30 years into the future, I will tell me that this was just a time of waiting. That I needed to be patient, and give myself some grace. This time of quiet, of feeling alone, of wondering where my light will truly shine, was that time when the seed is in the ground and just starting to poke up - we can't even tell, yet, how large that plant will grow.

  17. Clarissa: for sure, though the higher-stakes the audience, the more we resist taking the plunge.

    Holly: LOL. I hope she answers yes, too!

    Christine: I dream of the day when that "ouch" stops happening, when I see only opportunity to improve. Great future-you question!

    Nisa: Hey! Good to see you again. If you've been stuck or blocked for a while, I highly recommend this Pressfield book to motivate you.

    Jemi: Indeed. What I found eye opening in the Pressfield quote was learning to separate your capacity to create from the quality of project du jour. They're separate issues. Criticsm of this project doesn't mean you can't write at all--it means you need to try again.

  18. Jessica: Maybe you're more strong-willed than some of us. :-) Being able to soldier on in the face of disappointment or failure is a lifelong battle for some.

    Stephanie: I get the sense that being self-affirming is necessary in every part of the journey. Even bestselling authors worry their next project will tank.

    Drea: I too have been derailed by unhelpful critiques early on. You're so right that you need to take into account a critiquer's taste. They might be pushing you toward writing "their way"--in an approach and tone that's incompatible with your story. Glad to hear you got the project back on track!

    Laura: I agree. Great thoughts here. One has to look carefully at a critique for the "take-away lesson" and not let ego-wounds derail you.

    Simon: your "keep moving forward" approach has been really inspiring/encouraging to me, especially because you don't let the whole "unrelated degree" thing hamper you in the least.

    Indigo: I know just what you mean about having damaging crit relationships. I'm so glad you were able to recognize the negative influence and move away toward your own voice.

    Angela: Sounds like that kind of paralysis is really pretty temporary. Having a plan of attack helps for sure.

    Karen: What separates my "spurred on" moment from the "wanna quit" is my degree of love for the project.

    Shelley: Definitely. It's a hopeful way of looking at our work, isn't it? One keeps improving if one doesn't quit.

    Medeia: You've embraced what Pressfield calls "going pro".

    Mary: what a lovely image of creativity: the seed that grows in the dark and bursts into the light and becomes large and fruitful.