As I’m sure most of you will agree, one of the most rewarding and, at times, distressing parts of writing is the response you get from your readers. After spending your own time and hard work, putting your ideas down, pouring your heart into a word processor, one hopes for, nay, looks forward to, being complimented on their work. It isn’t, of course, very hard to receive positive criticism. One isn’t likely to receive a compliment and say, “No, you know what, you’re a moron. I do suck.” What is more important to consider, then, is how you receive negative criticism, divided into three categories: Insightful, 24-Grit, and Troll. When I say important, of course, I speak relatively—a supernova radiates so much light that they often blank out entire galaxies, and emits as much energy in several weeks as a sun does over its entire life span. I like to think about that sometimes when I’m on the Internet, reading terrible literature for the purpose of writing an article about exactly why it’s so bad for the gratification of an evil overlord whose flashes of mercy are as infrequent as they are heartfelt… I hate my life.

Just kidding, of course! Hahaha! …Sly has no flashes of mercy. Onto number one.

Insightful Criticism: Out of the negative criticisms, this is the easiest to take. Signs that your negative criticism is insightful are a use of capitalization and proper spelling, citation of specific parts of your article, and tone of helpfulness. Insightful critics will often suggest things, rather than demand them of you greedily. Work, slave, work, write things for my magnificent website! What if I want to go hang out with my friends? I AM YOUR ONLY FRIEND. …sorry. Responding to insightful critics isn’t too hard, but nonetheless there always seem to be people on various websites who will go and just flame the hell out of someone who was only trying to help them improve. Therefore I shall briefly go over how you should respond to such critics. The most simple response is to just consider their remarks and thank them. If you have any questions, then ask politely if they could clarify. And if you disagree, but want to better understand their commentary, then you provide citation from your piece to the contrary. This should not be an argument, but rather a, “I see your point, but I thought I did blah by saying x in 3.” Sometimes critics overlook things. After all, nobody’s perfect. The most important thing is to be graceful. Like a duck. …Gracious, I mean, but major points if you catch the reference.

24-Grit Criticism: For those who are carpentry-ignorant—shame on you!—the lower the grain of sandpaper is, the larger the size of the particles of sand on the paper. In essence, the lower the grit, the rougher it is. 24-grit is, to my knowledge, the smallest grit that’s produced commercially, though I could be wrong. And even that usually isn’t in ACE Hardware or whatever. I could go on all day about sandpaper, but that’s not what I’m being paid the big bucks for. 24-grit is my little slang that I just made up for criticism that, while perhaps valid or well-intended, is just brutal. We’re not even talking kick in the nads here, we’re talking crowbar in the nads, falling over onto a hot stove covered in razor blades. Then your idiot brother reaches for the nearest liquid to put out the flames, which happens to be rubbing alcohol, and the blaze is intensified. He resorts to the next nearest liquid which is, of course, vinegar. I hate that moron. …in that, completely hypothetical, scenario. Anyway, the criticism is pretty bad. Not necessarily nasty, though it can get there; this person has read your work, seems to understand it to a degree, but does not like it and wants to let you know why in excruciating detail. This is uncool in pretty much any circumstance unless the writing is really that bad, with the exception that it’s okay to do if the author sells a lot of books. So, now that you’ve had the whole crowbar-nad-fire-cut ordeal, how do you respond to it? Well, the best response is probably to read and consider, but not respond. Likely this person is going through a difficult time in their life, does not have a life in which to go through a difficult time, or, again, your writing is really, really bad. However, if you have a curiosity about their criticism, they seem reasonable (if critical), and you can keep your composure, then, again, engaging in a discussion of your work can be productive. Sometimes people are really harsh when they actually like your work, and it’s just their way of trying to help you to improve. Sometimes, people are tools.

Troll: We’ve all been here. They don’t use proper spelling, and will often respond with some demoralizing motivational poster. Your best bet here is to let the other people take care of them. Trolls don’t really care what you say back to them, but enjoy the thought that they might be making you angry. You can complain to the admins if they’re really bad, but be comforted by the fact that, no matter what crap they’ve spewed about your work, they’re trolls and pretty much everybody hates them.

Taking criticism professionally is as much a part of being a writer as writing professionally is. Don’t make the mistake of turning yourself into an unpopular prima donna. After all, sometimes the dignity with which you receive criticism will earn you a far more profound respect than the work itself did.

Comment

  1. Ari on 24 March 2009, 23:59 said:

    Funnily enough (for me) I seem to attract only trolls. My writings has gotten me called “douchebag of the week”, “arrogant dick”, “someone with no self-esteem”, “really uncool”.

    Heh. Yeah. List goes on. I was impressed by the “douchebag of the week” remark. But 24-grit crit. is definitely my mom. I’ll give her something of mine that I wrote, and she’ll be like “wth this has no plot/talent/redeeming qualities.” All in a rather nice and comforting tone. :)

    Nice article, btw.

  2. Kitty on 25 March 2009, 00:12 said:

    This is why I do not show anyone anything I wrote ever.

  3. SubStandardDeviation on 25 March 2009, 00:51 said:

    Well, the best response is probably to read and consider, but not respond. Likely this person is going through a difficult time in their life, does not have a life in which to go through a difficult time, or, again, your writing is really, really bad.

    “This reviewer was mean to me! Clearly he must be a spiteful cynic who can’t appreciate my genius!” Yeah, real mature way to take a critique.

    You should always be open to the possibility that your writing is really, really bad. Not all of us are trolls. Unfortunately, sometimes valid points are lost beneath a veneer of cutting sarcasm.

    @ Ari: That’s too bad. I expect you don’t visit those websites/people anymore.

  4. Mlarg on 25 March 2009, 00:54 said:

    Great job! I think this article aptly addresses the problem with a lot of authors (on the net or otherwise) these days.

    However, I have two main critiques. The main one is that there is a fourth type of criticism to a work: fluff.

    One isn’t likely to receive a compliment and say, “No, you know what, you’re a moron. I do suck.”

    Fluff is the kind of empty positive criticism that I have found people actually disagreeing with. You’ve probably seen examples of this in popular fandom, where people say “OMG THIS WRITING IS THE BEST EVER!! HE USES ALLITERATIONS AND STUFF AND DESTROYS POPULAR MYTHOLOGIES WITH NOT-VERY-OBSCURE MARY SUEISMS!” (not very blunt reference there) Fluff writers are like the anti-troll, vying for a smile from the author or just plain attention to the degree that they are willing to dish out extreme compliments to areas of writing that may or may not deserve them.

    This also brings up another issue: differentiating between critiques. A lot of authors on the net seem to mistake Fluff for actual compliments, claiming that their work has achieved massive renown due to its ‘popular appeal,’ and Trolls for actual critique, claiming that everyone is ‘out to get them.’ Making sure your ego doesn’t get too big or too paranoid is a large part of how to properly receive critique.

    My last issue with the article was your multiple references to SlyShy. I mean, I know he whips us occasiona- ALL HAIL THE HYPNOTOAD

  5. SlyShy on 25 March 2009, 01:11 said:

    As I’m sure most of you will agree, one of the most rewarding and, at times, distressing parts of writing is the response you get from your readers.

    This is wordy. I often do the same thing, but it can sap strength from your writing. Try, “You’ll agree, one of the most rewarding and, at times, distressing parts of writing is the reader response.”

    After spending your own time and hard work, putting your ideas down, pouring your heart into a word processor, one hopes for, nay, looks forward to, being complimented on their work. It isn’t, of course, very hard to receive positive criticism.

    “It isn’t very hard to receive positive criticism.” Again, it’s a style point, and people will disagree. The directer statement sounds stronger. Sort of like a punch to the face.

    One isn’t likely to receive a compliment and say, “No, you know what, you’re a moron. I do suck.”

    What is more important to consider, then, is how you receive negative criticism, divided into three categories: Insightful, 24-Grit, and Troll.

    Categorizations generally bother me, because of the edge cases, but I guess it doesn’t matter here.

    When I say important, of course, I speak relatively—a supernova radiates so much light that they often blank out entire galaxies, and emits as much energy in several weeks as a sun does over its entire life span. I like to think about that sometimes when I’m on the Internet, reading terrible literature for the purpose of writing an article about exactly why it’s so bad for the gratification of an evil overlord whose flashes of mercy are as infrequent as they are heartfelt… I hate my life.

    Captain Perspective! Where have you been? Wall Street needs you!

    Just kidding, of course! Hahaha! …Sly has no flashes of mercy. Onto number one.

    Insightful Criticism: Out of the negative criticisms, this is the easiest to take. Signs that your negative criticism is insightful are a use of capitalization and proper spelling,

    Any sort of criticism can have this. Those may be signs, but calling them criteria is bad.

    citation of specific parts of your article, and tone of helpfulness. Insightful critics will often suggest things, rather than demand them of you greedily. Work, slave, work, write things for my magnificent website! What if I want to go hang out with my friends? I AM YOUR ONLY FRIEND. …sorry.

    So much sidetrack I could build a second trans-American railway.

    Responding to insightful critics isn’t too hard, but nonetheless there always seem to be people on various websites who will go and just flame the hell out of someone who was only trying to help them improve.

    Koff Knowing glance.

    Therefore I shall briefly go over how you should respond to such critics. The most simple response is to just consider their remarks and thank them. If you have any questions, then ask politely if they could clarify. And if you disagree, but want to better understand their commentary, then you provide citation from your piece to the contrary. This should not be an argument, but rather a, “I see your point, but I thought I did blah by saying x in 3.” Sometimes critics overlook things. After all, nobody’s perfect. The most important thing is to be graceful. Like a duck. …Gracious, I mean, but major points if you catch the reference.

    24-Grit Criticism: For those who are carpentry-ignorant—shame on you!—the lower the grain of sandpaper is, the larger the size of the particles of sand on the paper. In essence, the lower the grit, the rougher it is. 24-grit is, to my knowledge, the smallest grit that’s produced commercially, though I could be wrong. And even that usually isn’t in ACE Hardware or whatever. I could go on all day about sandpaper, but

    …I already have.

    that’s not what I’m being paid the big bucks for. 24-grit is my little slang that I just made up for criticism that, while perhaps valid or well-intended, is just brutal. We’re not even talking kick in the nads here, we’re talking crowbar in the nads, falling over onto a hot stove covered in razor blades. Then your idiot brother reaches for the nearest liquid to put out the flames, which happens to be rubbing alcohol, and the blaze is intensified. HE resorts to the next nearest liquid which is, of course, vinegar. I hate that idiot. …in that, completely hypothetical, scenario.

    Short analogies are the best kind. After all, the SAT never did

    Criticism is to talking crowbar in the nads, falling over onto a hot stove covered in razor blades. Then your idiot brother reaches for the nearest liquid to put out the flames, which happens to be rubbing alcohol, and the blaze is intensified. HE resorts to the next nearest liquid which is, of course, vinegar as What is to Sandpaper?

    Anyway, the criticism is pretty bad. Not necessarily nasty, though it can get there; this person has read your work, seems to understand it to a degree, but does not like it and wants to let you know why in excruciating detail. This is uncool in pretty much any circumstance unless the writing is really that bad, with the exception that it’s okay to do if the author sells a lot of books.

    Or the author is a terrible Asian supremacist.

    So, now that you’ve had the whole crowbar-nad-fire-cut ordeal, how do you respond to it? Well, the best response is probably to read and consider, but not respond. Likely this person is going through a difficult time in their life, does not have a life in which to go through a difficult time, or, again, your writing is really, really bad.

    Maybe both. Except the onset of the former was caused by the latter.

    However, if you have a curiosity about their criticism, they seem reasonable (if critical), and you can keep your composure, then, again, engaging in a discussion of your work can be productive. Sometimes people are really harsh when they actually like your work, and it’s just their way of trying to help you to improve. Sometimes, people are tools.

    Sometimes twice is repetitive. Also, you seem to have sufficiently covered the “tools” point earlier, and this sentence just seems out of place.

    Troll: We’ve all been here. They don’t use proper spelling, and will often respond with some demoralizing motivational poster.

    Right, it’s impossible to troll with correct grammar.

    Your best bet here is to let the other people take care of them. Trolls don’t really care what you say back to them, but enjoy the thought that they might be making you angry. You can complain to the admins if they’re really bad, but be comforted by the fact that, no matter what crap they’ve spewed about your work, they’re trolls and pretty much everybody hates them.

    Also, they are fat and live in the basement, am I right?

    Taking criticism professionally is as much a part of being a writer as writing professionally is.

    Heh. I know a certain someone who isn’t a professional writer yet.

  6. Kitty on 25 March 2009, 01:54 said:

  7. Reggie on 25 March 2009, 02:00 said:

    Ari: I think I would get a plaque made if someone called me “douchebag of the week.” sniff Mother would be so proud… :P And thanks!

    SSD: I was merely suggesting error in the tone of someone who criticizes another’s work in a manner that is… less than constructive, shall we say. And I agree that even when it’s brutal, you have to consider criticism — I believe I may have made that point, with those same words, if you look closely. ;P

    Mlarg: Yeah, fluff is kind of obnoxious, but it also doesn’t cause flame wars in comments as frequently as negative criticism. Honestly, I tried to keep this article in particular to negative criticism because it seems a lot more rampant around this place than fluff. And Sly… well… Sly…

    Sly: This will be confusing. I’m addressing your points one-by-one without using quotes. Wish me luck.

    It’s wordy, it’s flighty, it’s a style. I write in it to disarm the reader a little, to give off a certain air.

    I felt categorizations were rather necessary for this article. While there are no clearly defined borders, of course, I think one should be able to get a general idea of what they’re dealing with based off this system.

    That was a joke.

    Please, not the cells again… I don’t like the cells. :C

    That was also a joke. You know what, I’m going to abbreviate this from now on, I think.

    TWAAJ.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing.

    That was also a joke. Originally, it possessed just a smidgeon of subtlety, but I like your version better. :D

    TWAAJ

    He’s sort of successful, right? I mean, he’s been on TV. He’s on this website. Really, we’re helping spread his message of hate. We should be ashamed.

    It could be all three, really. Given that it’s the internet, it’s probably all three.

    Certainly, it would be redundancy, but I was attempting to use anaphora there. I can see how it would be unclear since I only use it to start two sentences, when it’s usually used in 3+.

    TWAAJ

    They pretty much resemble Jeff Albertson.

    And a writer should be professional, in whatever way they deem fit under the rather broad umbrella of that word (I mean, there are professional clowns), regardless of whether or not they are published. It makes them look better, and it makes their readers look upon them in a more positive light.

    Kitty: That is an adorable kitten.

  8. Ty on 25 March 2009, 02:08 said:

    To this list of well-explained categories of criticism (sandpaper! SANDPAPER!), I would like to add the silent treatment. This is almost as bad as 24-grit (trolls are actually too entertaining to be all bad), because no one will even tell you what’s wrong with your writing or if there’s anything wrong with it in the first place, and incredibly harsh criticism doesn’t sound that terrible by comparison.

    In cases like this, I come to the conclusion that a) my writing is literally more boring than a high school math textbook; b) my writing is really, really bad but no one is enough of a douchebag to tell me; or c) I never wrote anything in the first place and am possibly hallucinating on a regular basis. Either way, I usually react to this sort of situation in the same way I react to 24-grit — either by sighing inwardly and scrapping the entire piece of work, or by sobbing for hours in my room and vowing to never write again. Obviously I handle this sort of thing with great dignity and composure. Like a great Zen Master.

  9. Nate Winchester on 25 March 2009, 08:01 said:

    GET OUT OF MY HEAD Reginald Timbleywick III!

    Ok, seriously though, it’s like I’m in a race now with RT3 over articles. (I get an idea, and then he writes out what I was thinking.)

    Of course you know, this means war.

    (just kidding of course, we’re all a big happy family here at II)

  10. Kevin on 25 March 2009, 09:18 said:

    I look at it this way – if somebody takes the time to write three paragraphs about how much I suck (it’s happened), I’ll thank them for the effort and comb it for legit critique.

    One can’t afford a thin skin in this pursuit, especially given the amount of time and respect (I’ve heard) one can expect from the average editor/publisher.

  11. LucyWannabe on 25 March 2009, 12:07 said:

    Ty makes a good point about the silent treatment. That’s what I usually end up with when it comes to the things I write, and it’s extremely discouraging when you post something wanting concrit and all you get is a big fat zero in response.

    I’ve even BEGGED for some kind of feedback, and I still don’t get any. It’s actually made me give up on stories, since I’m kind of insecure and automatically assume that nobody is telling me anything because they’re too polite to let me know that it sucks. :P

    Feedback is good! How will I know how good/bad/needs some improvement something is if there’s no one speaking up? Hell, I’m so used to the nothing response I’d probably be overjoyed if I got FLAMED. XD

  12. SubStandardDeviation on 25 March 2009, 13:18 said:

    @ silent treatment:

    Well, where can you expect someone to be beholden to critique your work?

    • Join a writing circle or similar (on/offline) network. You critique their work, they critique yours, everyone wins.
    • Hire a beta reader.
    • Get people you know IRL to agree to critique your work. Contract signed in blood optional.

    Simply posting R&R PLZ!!!! on fictionpress isn’t enough. (But you probably knew that already.)

    I know I will not critique (most) stories that are not in the genres I enjoy most, because 1) I didn’t finish reading it or 2) I’m unfamiliar with the conventions and typical appeal of the genre. Perhaps targeting your work towards a narrower audience would help – e.g. if it’s Historical Romance, find a writing forum that caters specifically to that. I notice II seems to have mainly SFF/Supernatural fans (probably from the Eragon/Twilight criticism).

    Good luck, y’all.

  13. Sing on 3 April 2009, 09:50 said:

    @Ari oO what kind of critic do you see me as? Haha, I try to be insightful, though I find myself trailing into bluntness as opposed to thoughtfullness everynow and then, as you probably have deduced by now.

    I enjoyed this article immensely. It’s the kind of thing critics and writers alike should read. Taking criticsm isn’t easy, as most of us know all too well, and to have a thoughtful review of your writing can actually be a mood/inspiration/ego booster even with the usually negatively viewed critique meshed with it.

    Haha, tbh, I get fustrated when people don’t review my writing properly. I DO like to know how I review, and I don’t post things just to have people say things like “I liek it post moars lolzers :]”

  14. firinne on 26 May 2009, 20:30 said:

    I once posted a neutrally-worded piece of grammatical/stylistic advice in response to someone who had requested feedback, since I considered what they had posted (a paragraph) much too short for more complex commentary. Immediately, and despite my habitual disclaimers, I was torn to shreds and condemned as an Evil Grammar Nazi Pedant Overlady ™. Nowadays I only offer honest writing feedback to select RL friends. /After/ they swear they won’t take offense.

  15. Reggie on 26 May 2009, 20:40 said:

    The internet can be a merciless mistress, but I think irrational response to criticism is kind of related to insecurities the writer has and is unwilling to address.

    That being said, if you criticize in a good community, not only is the chance of the author being a doof somewhat less, but the other members will back you up if your critiquee does turn out to be a drooling moron. II is like that to a degree.

    I find your critique shallow and pedantic.