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How to Prepare for Negative Comments on your Creative Work

Aristotle is quoted as saying: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

I have been fortunate, so far, in receiving largely positive and constructive feedback on my first published novel, “Unearthed.” I of course know that no creative work can appeal to all audiences, though. Somebody, somewhere, will not care for your writing, your painting, your music, your recipe, etc. I know people who don’t even like chocolate … and I mean … it’s chocolate.

Like many authors, I felt some anxiety when publishing my novel. I had three beta readers and multiple rounds of edits; I was happy with the result. But I haven’t been living in a cave. I’m on social media, and I read the comments on public posts. I felt I should steel myself for the negativity that seems to thrive on the internet.

Here are my tips:

  1. Make a list of popular things you don’t enjoy

The beauty of this step is that nothing is off limits. Allow me to demonstrate: Fortnite, Game of Thrones (I really tried), every song by Drake, bicycle shorts, calamari. The fact that I don’t care for these things won’t (and shouldn’t) stop them from being successful. Except for whoever designed bicycle shorts. They should be stopped.

  • Read the 1 and 2 star reviews of your favorite novels

This is an eye-opener. One of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning, received a review titled “Seriously?!” that opened with: “I am mind-boggled that, at the time of this review, this book has over a 4-star rating.”

Another gem from a review of J.R. Ward’s work: “The characters are the most awfully cliched stereotypes I’ve seen since … actually, no, they ARE the most awfully cliched characters I’ve ever read.”

Yikes. I read other reviews that are overly critical (imho) of story line or character development, but these snippets stand out in my mind for obvious reasons. Fortunately, these authors continue to turn out successful novels and connect with audiences who enjoy their work.

  • Watch Jimmy Kimmel clips of “Mean Tweets” on YouTube

This is a hilarious segment that highlights the most scathing comments on Twitter, read by the celebrity target. It’s brutally funny and frighteningly enlightening. Celebrities respond in various ways and some surprise you.

That’s it. Three easy steps that cost you nothing but a little time. For me, this was the perspective I needed before sending “Unearthed” out into the cruel, cruel world with my eyes wide open. I sincerely hope I never receive a Kimmel-worthy review of my work, but if I do, I’ll remember that I’m in good company with every other creative talent out there—and keep writing.

Escape mundane reality with “Unearthed”—a fun, fast-paced contemporary fantasy romance.

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21 thoughts on “How to Prepare for Negative Comments on your Creative Work

  1. mimispeike says:

    I’ve learned this: negative comments force you to evaluate your choices very carefully. If you decide your approach works in terms of your tastes and your goals, everything else will roll off your back.

    Liked by 7 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      Words of wisdom, Mimi: “decide your approach works in terms of your tastes and your goals.” My tastes and my goals include a love of the humanities and compassion for others, so, why the hell not? 🙂
      My experience with negative criticism -and as you who were on Penguin’s Book Country know, we got a lot of that- has been educational. Before I let
      The Phoenix Diary
      https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-phoenix-diary-g-d-deckard/1122175645
      be published, I applied 18 of 19 criticisms to the final draft. And I also thanked those critics. There is often something new to be learned from those on the outside looking in.

      Liked by 6 people

      • @GD: I remember critiquing entire chapters of that book! The process worked for both of us, I think, because you told me (1) to go ahead and communicate anything that seemed unclear, unsound, or otherwise in error, and (2) I took pains to highlight passages I liked and explain, in detail, exactly why I liked them. Your strong and confident writer’s ego gave me the permission and energy I needed to do an exhausting critique. (Let’s have a little fun with alliteration, shall we?) You weathered my withering write-up words with weary but appreciative aplomb.

        Liked by 4 people

        • What??? I want pre-critiques like this! Where do I sign up?! (1) is critical but (2) is equally helpful in that it helps guide the writer with “more of this!” Very cool that you two were able to work together in that manner.

          Liked by 4 people

    • I agree; being clear on what your own goal is makes it easier to evaluate feedback. Constructive criticism is always welcome, even if it doesn’t align with my goals. Some criticism is duly noted and summarily ignored; some criticism is explored further and tested against the goals. But I think “nasty” comments left in reviews say more about the reviewer than they do about the author.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. hehe, i always read the negative reviews of the books i really enjoyed! It… makes me feel good. Not because people trashed a story I enjoyed, but because there’s hope for me 😉
    On the other hand, I didn’t like Game of thrones either. And my son loves fortnite to the point of addiction.

    Liked by 4 people

    • @Jina: Good luck with both the book and the reviews!

      As regards criticism: What a triggering word that is for both critics and writers, heh!

      One of my favorite responses to a “know-nothing” critic came from Anne Rice, responding on Amazon.com. (Yes, even The Greats have been known to blow a fuse when confronted with idiotic critical blathering. My favorite sentences of the whole thing in bold.)
      ………………………………….

      Off amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/037541200X/ref=cm_rev_next/104-4868446-7593569?customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155&customer-reviews.start=21&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER).

      From the Author to the Some of the Negative Voices Here, September 6, 2004

      Seldom do I really answer those who criticize my work. In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals. However there is something compelling about Amazon’s willingness to publish just about anything, and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you’ve said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul. Also I use and enjoy Amazon and I do read the reviews of other people’s books in many fields. In sum, I believe in what happens here. And so, I speak.

      First off, let me say that this is addressed only to some of you, who have posted outrageously negative comments here, and not to all. You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective. Indeed, you aren’t even reading it. You are projecting your own limitations on it. And you are giving a whole new meaning to the words “wide readership.” And you have strained my Dickensean principles to the max. I’m justifiably proud of being read by intellectual giants and waitresses in trailer parks, in fact, I love it, but who in the world are you?

      Now to the book. Allow me to point out . . . [another extended explanation follows].

      Now, if it doesn’t appeal to you, fine. You don’t enjoy it? Read somebody else. But your stupid arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander. And you have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies. I’ll never challenge your democratic freedom to do so, and yes, I’m answering you, but for what it’s worth, be assured of the utter contempt I feel for you, especially those of you who post anonymously (and perhaps repeatedly?) and how glad I am that this book is the last one in a series that has invited your hateful and ugly responses.

      Now, to return to the narrative in question [yet another extended explanation follows] . . .

      There are readers out there and plenty of them who cherish the individuality of each of the chronicles which you so flippantly condemn. They can and do talk circles around you. And I am warmed by their response. Their letters, the papers they write in school, our face to face exchanges on the road — these things sustain me when I read the utter trash that you post. But I feel I have said enough. If this reaches one reader who is curious about my work and shocked by the ugly reviews here, I’ve served my goals. And Yo, you dude, the slang police! Lestat talks like I do. He always has and he always will. You really wouldn’t much like being around either one of us. And you don’t have to be.

      If any of you want to say anything about all this by all means Email me at Anneobrienrice@mac.com. And if you want your money back for the book, send it to 1239 First Street, New Orleans, La, 70130. I’m not a coward about my real name or where I live. And yes, the Chronicles are no more! Thank God!

      ……………………………………

      @Jina: I would love to hear more details about your writing process and anything else you would like to share with us about your latest novel.

      In the meantime, here is another link you might enjoy perusing (yes, Anne Rice again) re: “internet lynch mobs” banding together to take down a book (hopefully this doesn’t happen to you–or any of us, for that matter, heh!): https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/14/anne-rice-hits-out-at-internet-lynch-mobs-attacking-controversial-books

      Liked by 6 people

  3. GD Deckard says:

    Regarding troll reviewers, I believe it was Jubal Harshaw who pointed out that God put some people on this earth just so we could step on their toes. And they’ll let us know who they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. atthysgage says:

    I always said I wasn’t going to read the bad reviews. But who am I kidding. It’s been a long time since I released a book or got a review, but I read them all. I didn’t get that many out-and-out bad reviews, but even the slightest bit of criticism always left me sputtering “but…they didn’t get the…how is it possible?…what a complete and utter misreading!…” and moaning about the limited palate of the common reader! Here I was serving them foie gras and they were griping because it wasn’t cheetos!

    But it probably is best just to let it all slide off your back. Vent your outrage or disappointment in private and then move on. As far as getting usable criticism from random Amazon reviewers, eh, probably pretty rare. Although like Neil Gaiman said: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’ve always chuckled over Isaac Asimov’s approach to criticism [close paraphrase]: “I’ll read a review of my work until I encounter the first whiff of criticism then–into the trash! I can’t afford to be turned into one of those writers who writes to please their critics.”

      Sounding a similar note, Hemingway warned of the hurtful influence of critics in a letter to Maxwell Perkins [loose paraphrase]: “The problem with letting critical laudatory praise go to your head is that you must then also believe those same critics when they tell you your latest written work is crap. Most writers never recover from this one-two punch of praise/revilement; they find they can never write seriously or well again.”

      In a tough-love letter written to F. Scott Fitzgerald dated May 28, 1934, Hemingway let Fitzgerald have it:
      ………………………….

      For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. You feel you have to publish crap to make money to live and let live. All write but if you write enough and as well as you can there will be the same amount of masterpiece material (as we say at Yale). You can’t think well enough to sit down and write a deliberate masterpiece and if you could . . . let the spectators yell when it is good and hoot when it is not. . . .

      Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.

      About this time I wouldn’t blame you if you gave me a burst. Jesus it’s marvellous to tell other people how to write, live, die etc.

      I’d like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn’t get anywhere. You see, Bo, you’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It’s not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you’re a rummy. But you’re no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.

      Go on and write.

      https://fs.blog/2013/02/you-see-well-enough-but-you-stop-listening/
      ………………………..

      Go on and write! Is there any more important, energizing, and soul-steadying command one writer can convey to another?

      PS. Mr. Gage: profound respect, admiration, and gratitude always for your exhaustive critiques of my ongoing work, executed behind-the-scenes. Folks, if you haven’t had Atthys Gage critique one of your poems or short stories, you are almost certainly submitting flawed work to editors. Every writer needs another set of eyes. . . .

      Liked by 3 people

      • atthysgage says:

        Kind words, Carl. I find my own editing skills to be pretty hit or miss, but I’m glad when I can be of service. I’ve never thought of myself as a great plot critic (or even a great plot writer) but I do love a good sentence.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. This post prompted me to go back and hunt for a review I got on Barnes & Noble a long time ago, which I only read once, was incensed about, then laughed about, then forgot. If you haven’t yet been subjected to full-blown negativity, I thought it worth copying here in full:

    “I’m glad I didn’t pay for this book.

    This is a painfully slow-moving story, with shallow characters and subplots that are not interesting.

    The ending makes no sense – obviously I can’t go into detail without “spoiling” it, but suffice to say the actual end isn’t even spelled out, so you are just supposed to guess, apparently.

    The protagonist is an unlikable fraud who has the mistaken idea that therapy is some kind of Freudian technique that anyone can do. (Note to author: Don’t write about psychology/therapy, because it is clear that you know nothing about either.) She gets hysterical over things, doesn’t notice glaring clues, and then comes up with a theory to tie the murders together that isn’t preceded by anything written in the story so far.

    This book is sloppily written.”

    Because every one of those remarks could be refuted with reference to the text (apart perhaps from ‘slow-moving’, which is always a subjective issue), I dismissed the whole review pretty quickly, apart from wondering what sort of person could write it.

    Thanks for that Hemingway letter, Carl. Great advice from one great writer to another.

    Liked by 1 person

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