Criticism

It came up in the other topic, I thought about saying something, but didn't want to derail.


Criticism.


In recent months, two major-ish online presences have sort of crumpled in the face of stress. Thunt, creator of Goblins, a webcomic that's sat at the top of webcomic voting sites for long stretches of time, recently had a bit of a nervous breakdown - his site hasn't been updated in months. I only just discovered that he did a blog post beneath the comic (an interim piece) detailing his experiences, and I think it's kinda relevant.

Link: http://www.goblinscomic.org/


Totalbiscuit (a youtuber) posted a long and to-the-point rant on Reddit about criticism. He says a lot of stuff I'm going to recap in brief here. After the fact, he discovered he had cancer, so at least some of it was linked to health issues. Even so...

A link: http://www.reddit.com/r/Cynicalbrit/comments/1xrx27/in_light_of_tb_abandonning_his_own_subreddit/cfe3rgc


You can't work online without interfacing with your audience on some level. Actors get paparazzi in their faces, but at the end of the day, they can lock the doors to their house, shut their curtains and retreat from it all. They can generally work without interruption from the camera flashes in their face and the audience interaction cutting into their writing time. Read Thunt's experiences, read Totalbiscuit's, and you see what happens when you have to brave the heavier criticism. Your own doubts and neuroses get compounded, the voices of the audience sound an awful lot like the voices in your head, and it impacts the work. You can't step away from it because you're flying blind if you don't have any feedback at all. You have to brave it, face it head on.


It's a fact of life - you get more feedback as you get more attention. Some of that feedback will be negative. By and large, try as you might, the criticism stings more than the nice comments encourage. Add some confirmation bias and I don't think there are many people who are able to manage it unscathed. I have an immense amount of respect for the people who do - Markiplier on Youtube (someone my fans brought up) manages to be unwaveringly optimistic and upbeat.


From the perspective of the person doing the critiquing/reviewing, I've been part of a writer's circle, though I dropped out at the end of last summer when the group shrunk too much. Three to ten people in the group, two pieces covered a week, everyone critiques. I went in and everyone was so busy couching their words, focusing on sandwiching every piece of criticism between two compliments, that they were barely saying anything of substance. I was more ruthless, I don't know that I made friends, but I did get asked to help look over someone's work.


But at the end of the day, I was exercising the golden rule - I wanted people to be harsh and say what needed to be said. I still do, even now, even as my audience has swelled to the point that the criticism I experience from all corners is almost incessant.


I could get more into depth on my own thoughts and experiences, but I'm curious how you guys are managing. What are your thoughts? How are you really handling it? Is a 'thick skin' sufficient? Are you getting enough criticism? Too much?


Too much or too little are hard to measure. Useful criticism seems to be the real benchmark.

In many ways im thankful for what I do get, in others it hurts.


I dont think it really matters what you do, be it writing or painting or even parenting any criticism hurts. Often it's the hurt of a broken bone being set, a good healing pain. Other times it's a barely disguised attack, vicious beneath the niceties. There have been days where I couldn't write or focus on anything. Days, where if I didn't have to, I wouldn't have gotten out of bed. They were bad.


A thick skin to me has always been a deaf ear. Sometimes its exactly what you need to do. You can't listen to it all the time.


The way I've learnt to handle it is simple, I do something mindless for a while, read a book I've read a million times, be comforted by the words that I know by heart. Play a game, run in the garden with my kids. Watch a rom-com.


I have to thank my Dad here. Ever since I got into elementary school, my father has made it his goal to teach me what he says is the single most essential skill a person can have in life - to say "fuck it" and just go about ones business.


He taught me that NO ONE can deal with all the shit that will happen to them. Be it financial issues, bullying, social pressure, study performance or criticism of one's work. So he always, always told me to just learn to take a step aside. Let the bad stuff just be bad, and go on with my life. Take a break before I return to face it again, or just ignore it entirely when it's only bad, and there's no point in investing energy to deal with it.


To this day, I've held to this principle, and it has certainly saved my sanity. I've learned to take that step aside, and I can only recommend it to people.


When people criticize my work - and there is a LOT to criticise - I firstly enjoy it. Brennus is a practice work, meant to prepare me for what I consider my main literary work to be. Criticism helps a lot. But even under that perspective, it can hurt. Of course it does, I'm putting so much into this work!


The only way to deal is to take that step aside. That's how I deal with criticism to my work, when it gets to be too much.


I step aside and let it be, until - and if - I am ready to face it.


Hmm. Once you start getting THAT much feedback (as in, obviously way more than anyone would ever need or use), it might be helpful to keep in mind that... well... it doesn't actually matter that much anymore.


Now, haha, okay, I'm gonna sound a little lazy and stupid here, but just stay with me for a bit.


What I mean is, when you have such a huge fanbase as all that, then... even pessimistically-speaking, if you suddenly and inexplicably started to just COMPLETELY SUCK at what you do, it would take a REALLY long time for your whole fanbase to abandon you. In their hearts, people are basically optimistic, so if they've enjoyed your work in the past, they'll keep coming back to see if you've "gotten good again." Once they're really invested, it takes A LOT for them become uninvested. And isn't that what matters most? Obviously, as content creators, we want to put out a product that people thoroughly enjoy and appreciate, but I'm just talking worst-case scenario here.


All this pressure to perform, the anxiety and stress it causes, it might be helpful for your productivity, but once you reach critical mass, it's perhaps more helpful to remember that the stakes aren't actually THAT high. You could fuck up royally tomorrow, and you'd still basically be fine. Yes, the accumulated pressure may be immense, but so is the accumulated trust and credibility, and those things aren't gonna disappear just 'cuz of a few "arguable mistakes."


It's not the same when your audience is small. Hugely negative or conflicting criticisms at that point are a much bigger deal. Not only do you want to please the few folks you have, those negative criticisms might also discourage new folks from giving your work a chance. And then your audience doesn't even grow, and you never get to experience the problem of "too much" anything.


As far as personal experience goes, I don't feel like I'm getting too much criticism. I get a pretty good amount of feedback, I think, but it seems like my readers are an annoyingly supportive and understanding bunch. I WISH THEY'D YELL AT ME MORE, TO BE HONEST. I CAN TAKE IT.


Didn't notice this was by you Wildbow, and this was going to be my answer:


I've not gotten a whole lot of criticism. I'd like to think that I can deal with the kind of constructive feedback you get from a small audience. Generally, when people criticize my work (lack of direction/theme comes up as a major flaw) I'm already thinking that. Or, I think "Huh, that's right on the ball.". I've managed not to stress about it too much. The way I write it, at the moment, and the way my head works - it isn't conductive to a strong direction. I try think of ways to address it or, if I can't, accept it. Generally the votes, views, and reviews keep me pretty happy.


My audience is small enough not to include anyone that really seems to be hateful by what I'm writing. I've not come across *those* kinds of people. I think they are the ones that cause people the most of the pain.


I have seen them take on others though. My advice for anyone getting anything like that: Look at wildbow (lol). He managed to collect a fair few of these people that seem to have just decided Worm was... I dunno... offensive or something? Maybe they started reading and it went a direction they didn't want. Maybe they just get a kick out of hating something. Anyway, there were a couple of people posting ridiculous reviews and throwing all kinds of stupid comments about.


This is Worm. Only, hey, the most popular web-serial ever. Read it, think that these crazies hate *this* masterpiece. That for some reason they've taken offense to an author that's dedicated so much to writing. Any normal person can't compete with that. And yet, it still has someone who hates it. Dedicated time to reviewing it badly, making those comments.


Yeah... I wouldn't worry if you get someone like that. Count it as an honour to get that 1 in 1000 reader, because that means you've got the 999 other readers who vote for you, leave great feedback and write good reviews.


If your asking for feedback in a writers circle type environment, it's a little different. For a start: It's voluntary. Those online personas can ask for feedback on strips/videos before posting (although I bet it's different to writing circles, where it's kind of normal practice) but if it's too much: You can just drop it for a bit.


People do seem to have two reactions though, when asking for crit: Switching to overly defensive, or accepting everything without really considering it.


Before I answer your question, I feel like I should explain my philosophy on critiquing, which seems to be very different than yours. (Sorry for being so contrarian. I feel like whenever I comment on something you've said, I'm always taking the opposing side. I don't do it on purpose, I swear.)


I've been a member of a couple writing groups, and the advice is always to start and finish your critique by mentioning something you liked about the work. Sure, that tends to soften the more negative aspects of the critique, but I wouldn't call it a waste of time. Not by a long shot. When I receive a critique that points out both the positive and negative aspects of the particular piece I'm working on, I come to have a greater understanding of the work. It gives me perspective so that I know more than simply, "These bits were bad and must be changed."


The critique lets me know what worked, what didn't, what worked so well that the audience might want more of it, and what worked well but might be better somewhere else. All that information couldn't be conveyed as effectively if the critique was purely negative. "This scene is dull," is very different than "This scene had some nice suspenseful diction, but would be more effective if I knew more about the characters." The Yin and Yang of it is very important. Aristotle's Golden Mean, you know? Pure negativity is simply not as helpful as a combination that points out the pros and cons of a work.


For instance, a little over a year ago I wrote a noir fantasy story and got it workshopped. There were plenty of flaws that the critiques pointed out -- shallow characters and a few cliche sentences, as might be expected from a noir fantasy -- but again and again the critiquers said that they liked the story's setting. And they mentioned that they wanted to see more of that setting. So I developed the world a bit, and ended up realizing that as much as I liked the setting, these characters weren't working and that meant the story wasn't working. The positive and negative comments gave me the perspective to realize that I couldn't make this story work, but that the world was worth saving. So I took the world and made it the setting for a novel which I'm much happier with. Without the negative elements of the critiques, I wouldn't have seen why the story wasn't working. Without the positives of the critiques, I wouldn't have realized why I didn't want to let the story go.


Just last Thursday I joined another writing group and showed them the opening bit of my comedic LGBTQ superhero serial, which I'm prepping to submit to Sparkler Monthly (interesting website, by the way. I'd recommend checking them out, cause I think they're doing a lot of interesting stuff right when it comes to prose web serialization). I got some compliments on the voice of the narrator. One of the members didn't agree, and thought the voice was obnoxious. The negative parts of the critique that I heard from multiple people were also very helpful, and I feel like I got a better story as a result. But if I'd only gotten people to say what they didn't like about the story, I might have wondered if I should change the POV, based on the negative reaction from the one person. Having the positive critiques made me realize that there is an audience out there that might enjoy the novel as is.


This is all a rather long but I think necessary way of getting to what is MY ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION:


If someone comments on my work with nothing but pure negativity, I'm not convinced they're the audience for my story. My audience might be 15-30 year old women, whereas the critiquer might be a 70 year old man. Or the critiquer might be the right demographic, but the kind of story I'm writing might not be the kind of story that they like.


Every critique has some kernel of truth in it. But to take another example, a critique of Worm that says "It's too dark," isn't very useful. Because yes, it's very dark. But that's the point. That's like saying an action film had too much action. All opinions are valid, but not all opinions are worth changing the story for.


If I listened to critique after critique that only pointed out the negatives of a work, I would lose hope. But since those critiques aren't as valuable/important to me, they don't have such a negative effect on me.


So I'd say that you have to be careful whose opinions you take to heart, because they'll shape your story. And that can be for the better, if you listen to the right voices.


If not? Your story might end up even worse.


To finish this off, I'd like to mention real quick that I'm very much enjoying Pact, though I'm getting a little anxious to move past the fight with Conquest. And that, my friends, is a critique I can get behind. ;)


First off I should say that I haven't has too many commenters that were unreasonably critical. The vast majority of the people who comment on my story have been supportive, and encouraging, sometimes more than I feel like I deserve.


However... That doesn't mean that there haven't been a few days where criticism gets under my skin.


I don't mind criticism where the person appears to be aware that there is a person on the other end. When someone says something equivalent to, "Hey, I like your story, but I've got a few issues with this aspect of it," I don't have a problem. I've actually identified a number of mistakes in the process of reading comments like that.


The criticism I have a hard time handling is where the person is unremittingly negative throughout the whole thing. On the one hand, sometimes that's easy to shrug off because in order to be that negative they have to be disconnected from any reality I recognize that I can ignore virtually everything they say.


At the same time, it puts a small but noticeable dent in my mood.


I don't have a large enough readership that I have to deal with more than one of these people at a time, but I imagine this is a numbers thing. I remember that at the height of Tales of MU, there were people who seemed to read it solely for the purpose of complaining about it. I've seen that on web comics I like, I suspect that's true of both Pact and Worm.


Basically, if there's one person who complains loudly for every 500 readers and you have three thousand readers, you'll have to deal with six of them at any given time, each of them putting a small ding in your mood.


I can imagine with a large enough fandom there are enough dings in one's mood that it's better not to read the comments.


How do I deal with it?


A variety of ways. Sometimes I respond. Sometimes I let the regular readers handle it. They're surprisingly decent about it.


Again, I don't have to deal with it too often, but going and doing something else has its good points--practicing bass guitar, playing with (or walking) the dog, making dinner, and reading a book all help.


First off, in response to AGreyWorld's last comment - it hasn't been my experience that writers only have those two ways of dealing with criticism. My writer's group, small as it is, takes criticism seriously without getting defensive over it, and it shows in future samples they share. For instance, 9 days ago I told someone that their story reveals very little about the character's inner workings, that it's more like watching a movie. Last Saturday, he'd included a lot more internalization, and was in the process of editing everything he'd already written up to that point. That group also has a house rule that defending one's work while receiving criticism is forbidden. You can ask questions, but the moderator will spank you if you get defensive. If people get overly defensive or don't consider criticism, then that group's house rules aren't well defined enough.


My writer's group is pretty awesome, unfortunately only 3-4 people show up for it with any regularity.


But back to the topic as a whole.


I think our society as a whole has issues with criticism, and often kids don't learn to deal with it. Everything has to be wrapped up in niceties and pretty lies to be "acceptable", and as a result, you see people making fools of themselves in TV talent shows because none of their friends told them that their singing sucks.


The way I see it, it's better to hear the cold hard truth from friends, than to be mentally unprepared for opinions from strangers who will have no reason to hold back and NOT write a public 2 star review.


I do agree with Billy Higgins, but only in part. Positive feedback should be included with the negative but only if it's truly valid. I often get the impression that the positive is pulled out of thin air just for the sake of wrapping up the real criticism nicely, and in my opinion, that's the wrong way to go about it. I'd rather not be told that my main character is likeable if the reviewer in fact simply didn't hate them and otherwise didn't care. If a chapter is dull, I'd rather be told it is dull, bluntly and to the point, because that kind of feedback will help me understand why I only have 10 readers who stuck around while everyone else dropped out.


But if the positive feedback is actually valid and truly something that was noted as remarkable, then by all means, it should be included.


I believe I can handle negative feedback fairly well because I'm super critical of myself. Maybe a little too critical - sometimes I have a hard time writing because I'm nearly paralyzed with fear that my writing sucks and no one has honestly told me so. By default, I always assume it's flawed or "okay" at best unless told otherwise. I'm hardly ever satisfied with what I write.


I have a small army of friends and online acquaintances who have done some test reading of the 10 unreleased chapters I produced to date. Most weren't critical enough, in my opinion, and I stopped sending them any chapters for that reason. But the rest have really helped me improve, and comments on said improvement are more valuable to me than any conjured up niceties for the sake of having niceties included. I was on something like a high after last Saturday's writer's group meeting because they told me "wow, you really listen to our feedback! This was the most enjoyable chapter to date."


It was a huge motivation booster because it was honest.


Over the course of 6 weeks, I've gone from clunky, pretentious writing with overly long descriptions to a style that my critics barely recognize as something produced by the same author. Another two weeks, and I'll be ready for publishing.


Hm. This is kind of a rambly response, sorry Wildbow, but it's your fault for being thought-provoking. :D


Criticism isn't fun, and even in the best of times it can act as "drag" that I have to fight against in order to keep momentum going. Palladian's critique of Curveball was necessary and useful since it highlighted something I've actively struggled with for a while (and it's proof that even when you're aware of problems and working to overcome them, that's not always enough to succeed) but even then it made me second-guess myself a lot and generated a whole lot of extra inertia that I had to fight through when I kept writing.


I wonder if frequency plays a part, there. When you get a steady stream of feedback, good and bad, on a project I suspect the bad isn't particularly fun but statistically speaking when you reach a certain point you're going to know a) how much to expect and b) where it's going to come from, and you can steel yourself for it and move on. When you don't have that level of success (nothing I do is on the level of Worm or LoN, for example) then any feedback at all is sort of like a flash going off in a pitch-black room, where you only get a brief image of wherever the flash went off. So a good review, you get a brief image of people partying and giving you a thumbs up, which is great. A negative review is a brief image of a Deep One rising out of the waters preparing to drag you down to the depths -- not so great, and then the flash goes out and you have images of the thousands of Deep Ones you didn't see silently bearing down on you.


For some reason I never get the image of thousands of revelers enjoying my work. Nope, it's just the Deep Ones. Damn you, Lovecraft.


The trick is to learn to go on in spite of this, which is not the same as having a thick skin. I don't believe I have a particularly thick skin--if I didn't care what anyone thought, I wouldn't bother putting it out there. I want people to enjoy my work and when they don't it bothers me. At the same time, I am possessed with a certain arrogance that I think is common in a lot of people in the arts: I have specific stories I want to tell, and I want THOSE STORIES to be the ones that people like. Art is kind of the ultimate version of trying to "have it all" because I have something specific in mind that I want people to love, even if it's not the something specific THEY have in mind when they go into it.


So here's an example:


Before I published Pay Me, Bug! as a web serial (it was a completed work before I serialized it) I had a particularly crushing moment when someone out of a review group went into detail about why the protagonist of the book (Grif) was a terrible character and had to be rewritten. I want to stress that this was not a particularly nasty critique -- it wasn't angry or sneering or cutting -- it was a very well-reasoned explanation of why the specific "type" of character Grif was didn't work for the reviewer, and why it damaged the story. And also keep in mind that this was the most detailed response I had from that group of reviewers -- other than this response, everyone else was rather tepid ("I liked it" and "I laughed" and "I thought it was fine" are not really informative).


So that criticism STUNG, because Grif was by far my favorite part of the entire book. The cheerful, amoral rogue is a personality I feel I write very well, and is an archetype that I tend to get behind and root for--I mean I practically imprinted on Han Solo when I was seven or eight, it's been horrible for my wife :D--so to have my most detailed critique of my work talk about how insufferable the character was, well that was hard to take, and I had to wrestle with it.


And what finally came out of that was:


1. The critiquer's lack of affection for the character was genuine.


2. Other people will probably share that lack of affection.


3. However--and this was an important sticking point--Grif was the guy I was writing about. It was his story. The book doesn't work without him in it.


So I decided that no, damn it all, I wasn't changing him up, because he was the story I wanted to tell in that book. So I steeled myself and kept Grif with the knowledge that there were people who would hate, hate, hate, hate, hate him.


Overall it was a very valuable experience because the critiquer wasn't wrong--that level of smart-assery in a protagonist won't appeal to some people, and that's all there is to it, and I needed to be aware of that--but actually deciding "well, I'm doing it anyway" was, I don't mind saying, terrifying. But that's the story I want to tell.


On a lesser note, one of the criticisms I DID expect from the outset and was prepared for was "This is pretty derivative" and "paint-by-numbers space opera" which are reviews I have received in various places. I can't fault anyone for saying that, because it's true. I love a certain style of space opera and Pay Me, Bug! is definitely a love letter to that era. But I absolutely do nothing new with that genre, and I can't fault the people who ding me for that, even though my plans involve continuing to do nothing new with that genre. :D


OK, so I'm still rambling, but this just sparked another thought -- it's easier for me to handle criticism when I'm comfortable and in command of my material. So, for example, the criticism about Pay Me, Bug! was crushing but I was able to make the decision to continue on as planned because I had a very firm grasp on what I was trying to do and how to do it. I would contrast that with Chris' review of the first few chapters of The Points Between on this site, which just about killed me (I'm not picking on Chris, seriously, there's nothing wrong or untoward in his review, it's just not the one I wanted, heh). And the reason it just about killed me is The Points Between is about ten thousand times harder for me to write. It is in a style and at a level that is fairly alien to me--I'm more comfortable with smartass pirates in a space opera heist novel with hyperintelligent talking bugs, or smartass villain-turned-superheroes in a murder mystery/conspiracy serial, than I am with a story about magic hiding inside the modern world in the guise of art. Neil Gaiman could pull this off, I'm still not sure I can, and it's terrifying to try. And it WILL fail for people. There's no way around that. But being confronted with failure on something you're not sure you're going to be able to pull off creates a lot more internal struggle than being confronted with someone who simply disagrees with a decision you made that you're absolutely certain about. One is unpleasant and disappointing, the other feeds the little voice that whispers "you're doing it wrong you're doing it wrong you're doing it wrong you're doing it wrong" that plays on an endless loop whenever you try to start typing.


Of course at the end of the day none of that really matters when it comes to actual critiques, reviews, and feedback. There's no hand-holding in the great big world, and when people are reviewing your work they're not acting as your shrink or your cheerleading squad -- on WFG (for example) they're trying to tell OTHER READERS how they reacted to the book, theoretically to help those readers make informed decisions. On Amazon they're (theoretically) trying to chip in to let prospective buyers know whether it's worth their money. And it doesn't matter, for example, how personally terrifying it is for me to write something. My personal journey isn't important, the output is. If it falls flat for a reviewer, the reviewer, if he or she is acting ethically, has a responsibility to tell other people that it did, and why, even if it makes me want to curl up into a ball. That's the entire point of reviewing. The writer has to figure out how to keep going, and for me it's a matter of digging deep and inching forward (sometimes it's pretty close to the literary equivalent of an inch -- ten or twenty words at a time) in the hopes that you get there.


I grew up reading Robert Heinlein and some things he wrote are relevant to this discussion because they inform how I look at the topic. It is a paraphrasing of several things and how they add up in my head, more than a direct quotation.


Any act of creation requires sensitivity - the ability to observe and absorb your surroundings. Creative people. Take in their environment like a sponge but then internally digest it and create a new form from the gestalt. It could be a book, a pie, a painting, but it arises from interacting with the world's pieces and finding a new way to put them together.


However, to make great art requires sensibility as well as sensitivity. Sensibility is making discerning choices about your environment and your goal and your relationships. A child can be crying and affect a sensitive parent - but a sensible one will be spurred to action to make sure that child is safe, and not just be affected by the crying. And sometimes a parent has to judge that the thing that caused the crying was a natural consequence, and know when to step back and let the child learn a lesson.


When it comes to art, sensibility let's one choose what works for the piece and judge harshly what is waste. They can strive to improve and not bbe held back by sentimentality. If they have a goal, they can ignore the crowd in order to pursue it.


If they lack sensitivity, they will create art that does not interest the crowd - and that is a natural consequence. If they pursue a new, unseen goal, sometimes they can do it so well that they move part of the crowd with them.


I think of da Vinci's impeccable observation and studies of what he saw, and I also think about how Picasso and Monet and Van Gogh reinvented art, as examples.


As a writer you have to be ruthless with yourself about improving your craft, but to be successful you have to be sensitive enough to target an audience that will enjoy what you are crafting. Criticism is helpful where it allows us to develop sensibility about what is functioning. Anything that merely makes us sensitive is noise that can be ignored if we have that balance.


Personally, I find that it's important to put criticism into context. Who it is from and who is it for makes a difference.


Criticism from a writing group is meant for the writer. Done right, it can be immensely helpful in improving the writing and the piece. Done badly, it can crush a writer's hopes and dreams. To get the most useful feedback, it's important to find the right group for you.


Personally, I dislike the 'shit sandwich' approach (criticism sandwiched between positive statements). It tends to water down the truly useful feedback and make the process more forced than it needs to be. Be constructive. Be considerate in how you word it, but be honest. Don't say positive things for the sake of saying something positive.


On the flip side, if you're doing a critique and you can find nothing good to say about it, you need to stop and think about what you're doing. It's a rare piece of writing that is truly that terrible. The easy answer is 'it's just that bad', but in my experience, even bad pieces have glimmers that are worth a positive comment. Chances are, you need to take a step back and take another look, or ask yourself why you're reacting so negatively.


As a writer, it's much easier to prepare yourself for a critique from a writing group. Chances are, you've asked for it. It's also likely to be on an unfinished piece, not something you've released into the wild (which is taken by the world to be a 'finished product'). When the feedback comes in reviews and reader comments, it's a lot more unexpected. It's also feedback that isn't really intended for us as writers; reviews are for readers, and often the comments are the same. That can make them more raw and less constructive, but still feedback we can learn from.


They still sting. I'm lucky to have a really supportive group of readers who comments on Starwalker, but I poke around on incoming links sometimes, and occasionally find negative comments that make me stop and think. Reviews of my work aren't 100% positive either (nor would I ever expect them to be). My usual reaction is that it stings, and then to try to figure out why that person is reacting that way. Because context is key.


For example, the prequel book of the Apocalypse Blog has a bunch of huffy reviews because a) it's short, and b) the apocalypse doesn't happen. I choose not to read too much into this because it's free, the wordcount is stated in the description, it's clearly marked as a prequel, and it's called Before The End. Apart from looking at more ways to make that painfully obvious, there's not much for me to do there.


On the other hand, I took on board the comments in the reviews of the original Apocalypse Blog and sought to tackle them when starting Starwalker, because they exposed some weaknesses in my writing. Trying to get more show and less tell in a fictional blog is tricky, but led me into some experimentation with the format that has, overall, improved the storytelling (at least, I hope so!).


And I've had moments like ubersoft's, where someone has criticised a certain element of the story, but I've kept it because it's important to the story that I'm trying to tell. It may not be to everyone's taste, but ultimately, you can't please everyone. While it's disappointing to hear that what you're writing isn't to someone's taste, I choose to take it on board as a way to more fully understand who my target audience is. Feedback like that might not prompt me to change the story or my writing, but it might help me shape how I share and sell it to readers, to get a better reader experience.


To answer Wildbow's original question, a thick skin is important to dull the impacts, but insensitivity isn't a solution. Understand the feedback, understand the person giving that feedback, and look for opportunities to improve. That's how we get better. And, most importantly, don't let it get you down. It's never as bad as you think. :)


I grew up reading Robert Heinlein and some things he wrote are relevant to this discussion.


the above statement will always be accurate. no matter what discussion. Just saying.


I love criticism. Personally, I would take a bad review over a good one, since bad ones usually tell what the problems are and then I can fix them (the exception being, like on a review of Unbroken Chaos, when someone simply says they didn't like it, and doesn't give any reasons). I really hate thanking people for bad reviews, because I always seem a bit over-enthusiastic, and I'm afraid that the person will read it as rude and unprofessional, when I really am simply trying to thank them.

Okay, so I got a little off topic there, but seriously, bad reviews are usually good, with the exception of certain situations, and I always try to incorporate anything people say into my future writing.


You lot have already said pretty much all the things that I could think to say, but I'd like to say ubersoft's "it's easier for me to handle criticism when I'm comfortable and in command of my material" speaks to me most. That's definitely how I feel on the topic and since I've yet to really push outside my comfort zone in my writing, I'm usually pretty okay with critique. If someone doesn't like what I'm doing, I can very easily shrug it off and move on. Caelum Lex also gets the 'not adding anything new to the space opera genre' remark along with 'this feels like Firefly', 'is this Firefly?', 'are you just writing Firefly fanfiction?' and frankly I don't care. Because basically yes. I am perfectly happy writing frivolous space pirate stories and no one is going to stop me.


Honestly we don't get huge floods of critiques. Lots of typo notifications. A few hits when we forget to seal a plot hole. There was one reader who consistently got annoyed by one of the main characters making poor decisions despite the fact that making poor decisions was basically what he is known for and what caused the entire story to happen to begin with. I've never really actively sought critiques though. True, I would love to get some genuine feedback that could help us improve what we're doing and know what people actually think of the damn thing. But at the same time, I'm not convinced it's all that important. It's space pirates, not Shakespeare.


I'd like to add that there's one kind of criticism that really gets to me: Lack of criticism. If the response is nothing or something like 3 words, I immediately assume my sample was so awful that they just don't want to say anything about it for fear of making me feel bad.


I can take harsh criticism, but none? That's awful.


I've been lucky because the worst anyone has said about Rema has been lukewarm responses, no outright disgust or criticism, even when I flat out asked for it in a recent reader survey. Besides, there is nothing a reader can say that hasn't been said by my husband or agent. They are by FAR my absolute harshest critics! They don't let me get away with anything. It is hard to deal with, but necessary for me. I have a tendency to feel "eh, good enough." I need people around me who are willing to push me to my limits or else I get lazy. :P


Having that said it's so important to be able to pick and choose what will apply to your writing. I feel I take crits more personally when I feel I don't really know what I want out of the story, or what direction I'm taking it. I get frustrated that I don't have an answer, not that I got a crit at all.


There's a writing tip that applies when working with beta-readers; when someone thinks something doesn't work, they're usually right. When they tell you why, they're usually wrong. This is applicable to a degree with criticism of any sort.


The important thing to keep in mind in addition to a thick skin is that every review is a learning opportunity. If they bring up something that can make you a stronger creative, then adopt it. Discard the rest, and focus on reaching your target audience and evoking what you want to evoke.


The people who don't like what you've done? You're probably not writing for them anyway. That's okay. You don't have to please everyone.