How Much Should We Listen to the Critics

The only impeccable writers are the ones who never wrote. – William Hazlitt

Opening yourself up for criticism is never easy. Publishing and promoting your work knowing that reviews are not only inevitable but essential is a real challenge. Submitting work for critique, even knowing that those you’ve submitted your work to have your improvement as a writer in mind, is still close to standing naked in a crowd on the vulnerability scale.  Sometimes even admitting to people that you write can be difficult.

Despite the risk of bad reviews, harsh critiques or out and out ridicule, we can never get to where we want to be, accomplish what we want to accomplish or be the people we want to be if we don’t give it a try. By trying we will always open ourselves for criticism.

When I think about criticism though, I love to look at some of the success stories. I like them partly because it’s encouraging to see someone succeed, but also because usually those successes come after being met with resistance or flat out failures.

I recently watched the movie, Walk the Line, with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. The movie takes us along his early years, showing some of his early success and struggles. Watching the beginning, where he could have given up and taken an every day job instead of pursuing his singing career, I wondered what might have happened if he hadn’t pushed for an audition? Or what if he just took the first negative feedback as the truth about his ability? Or worse, what if he never tried in the first place? We could have missed out on a lot of great music.

There’re tons of these stories, but I can’t help seeing what a loss it would be if we never had work from authors who accepted negative reviews or literary rejections.

  •  Dr. Suess was told in one rejection letter that his work was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
  • Beatrix Potter met with a great deal of rejection before becoming one of the best selling children’s authors of all time.
  • Louis L’Amour  was said to have received around 200 rejection letters before a publisher was willing to publish his work.
  • F Scott Fitzgerald was told his The Great Gatsby was “an absurd story as romance, melodrama, or record of New York high life”
  • Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to teaching”.

Now it is true all of these authors then went on to great success, but you do have to wonder what would have happened if the would have let the words of others hold them back. Also what if, like so many of us, they became their own worst critic and let that self doubt defeat them? Given their ultimate success, you have to believe they had a strong belief in themselves that helped them keep trying.

Looking at these stories we can remind ourselves that no matter what level of success (or failure) we might ultimately achieve, we can never have a possibility of success without believing in ourselves. Whatever feedback we get can be accepted and considered in order to make us better, but our foundation should be built on a belief in our abilities and commitment to success.

What do you think? How do you deal with criticism and/or rejection? What do you think is required to keep pushing on to success? Please do share in the comments.

Thanks and have a great week!



8 responses to “How Much Should We Listen to the Critics

  1. Well, having had only a single short story published, I’m not exactly sure how I’d handle rejection or really bad reviews of something I’ve poured years into, such as a novel.
    If my novel ‘Jenny’ bombs really badly, will I say “to hell with it” and quit? I hope not.
    I, unfortunately, did do that once already. I did six months worth of a comic strip and sent it in to a cartooning syndicate. I got a rejection letter and never tried again. Jim Davis, who did the comic strip ‘Garfield’ said that he got dozens of rejection letters before Garfield got picked up. He’s a millionaire, now.
    But, what are ya’ gonna do? Hopefully I’m older and wiser, now.

    • One rejection is nothing, Joe and your comics are awesome! You are older (and wiser!) and times are changing, too. Maybe you could Facebook it like Bloomsury and others? 😀

      As for Jenny, I can only imagine the reviews will be positive:)

  2. Well, I”m obviously OLDER now. So let me correct that and just say that hopefully I’m wiser, too.

  3. I wrote for my own website for years before there was indie publishing. In 2011 I decided it was time to go indie and was formatting my first book when I had a very serious stroke and everything stopped for a few years. I still kept writing, though, it was good therapy for my right hand. I put out my first book and a lot of the people on my site wrote “fan-boi” reviews… “Greatest thing since sliced pepperjack cheese” and the ones I hated the most “Another coming of Heinlein/Piper/whoever.” I wrote a post on my site asking for proper reviews, but please stop the one line reviews. Since then, most reaction has been a net positive, and certainly most criticism is accurate. The review I hold up as the worst was a four-star review, of a novella that’s really a stealth short novel that I offer for 99 cents. The reviewer docked me a star for a “novella at 99 cents is too expensive.” Of course, you can’t charge less and sell through Amazon — and the story is 30k words.
    The important thing to remember is that the world is filled with all sorts and it doesn’t take much to engender interest in some fraction of them. Publishing through Amazon is, IMO, like singing in front of an army of Simon Cowells. If you are good you will win through… if not, you need to hone your craft.

    • Thanks for the comments and a great perspective. No way would I wanna stand up before a panel of Simon Cowells though – he’s a mean SOB 😉 No seriously it’s a good analogy because the reviews can help sort the wheat from the chaff.

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