When I started taking my creative writing seriously, handing out my short stories became a much scarier experience. I wanted everyone’s honest feedback, but I knew it would hurt deeply if someone I loved sliced my stories to their bones.
Now I take constructive criticism for a living and I have to say—it’s never fully painless, but it does get much easier.
Here are a few ways to overcome the fear of constructive criticism and learn how to strengthen your writing with it.
What Is Constructive Criticism?
Any writer is bound to receive constructive criticism at some point in their life. Whether you publish your work or not, any reader can potentially provide it.
Constructive criticism is reader feedback that frames one or more critiques in ways that help you learn from it.
Deconstructive criticism can point out the same issues with your manuscript, but it will come across as emotionally charged or personally driven.
If you can walk away from someone’s feedback with an idea of how to refine your work, it’s likely constructive. Unhelpful feedback might leave you feeling belittled, hopeless, or unwilling to write again.
How to Take Constructive Criticism
Even if someone frames constructive criticism in the best way possible, it can still be hard to hear. Use these tips to practice absorbing feedback without feeling personally offended.
1. Focus on Your Desire to Improve Your Craft
Writing something deeply personal is cracking your heart open on the page. It’s impossible not to feel intimidated and nervous when someone reads it.
If they mention something constructive, take a deep breath. Remember that you gave them your story to experience it through a reader’s eyes.
Focusing on that purpose helped me turn helpful notes into positive action. After making edits that strengthen my work, I always give myself a mental high five because those changes will better showcase the themes, characters, and plot points that mean so much to me.
2. Take a Break Before Giving Anything Out
When I finished my first novel, I cried. They were tears of joy, sadness, and relief. It was an incredibly emotional moment, so my heart wasn’t on solid ground when I immediately handed it to my best friend to read.
It’s okay to pause for a while after finishing something.
Let the story sit with you. Process everything it took to write it and when you feel ready to talk about it from a less-emotional standpoint, you’ll receive criticism much more easily.
3. Consider Who’s Giving the Advice
Your loved ones want the best for you. They love supporting you, but that doesn’t qualify them as the best beta readers.
It’s better to give your work to someone who knows how stories work. Those would be avid readers, trained writers, and people who communicate for a living.
You don’t need an agent and editor to polish your work. But it’s crucial to remember someone’s perspective when they give you feedback. I take advice from my writer friends seriously, but the feedback from my family members who otherwise hate reading ends up farther down on my list of priorities.
4. Remember the Positive Notes
It’s difficult to remember the positive things people say about your work if their more negative notes hit you straight in the heart.
When you return to your manuscript, dedicate some time to remembering what they loved about your story. Write it in the margins. Post it on your wall. Doodle it on a sticky note and tape it to your monitor.
Writing is hard work. You’re essentially on your own, so there’s no creative team cheering you on (unless you’re a published writer with a support system helping get your stories to readers).
Practice the art of self-love and be your own cheerleader. With time, you’ll instinctively ground your identity as a writer in your strengths and not your mistakes.
5. Weigh How Useful the Criticism Is
People may say they’d love to give some constructive criticism, but comments aren’t always constructive. Sometimes they’re not helpful for your story.
Let’s say you’ve written a short story about a dog who buried his bone in the backyard and can’t find it anymore. The neighbor’s dog helps him sniff out the bone and dig it up. You wanted the story to teach kids about the importance of accepting help when you need it.
After giving it to a friend, the friend says the story is good, but wouldn’t it be stronger if the dog found the bone by itself? After all, both dogs have the same ability to smell where it is.
Although you could make those changes and still have a traditional plot line, it would remove the purpose you originally wanted to write about.
Figuring out which pieces of criticism are useful and which are not will come with practice. Always compare them with the outline of your story or the essence of why you wrote it before making any significant changes.
Start Receiving Constructive Criticism Better
Feedback is a permanent part of being a writer. There’s no avoiding it, so everyone has to learn to embrace the process. Keeping these things in mind should help you get used to hearing negative feedback and determining what’s most useful or relevant to your work.
Remember—no one has ever become so great at their craft that they never need constructive criticism. That finish line doesn’t exit.
With time and practice, you’ll look forward to all kinds of feedback and become a better writer by diving into the process.