It was hard to take at first. I scanned through the post, left the page, and then came back several times to read it over and over again. This was the first critique of my writing on the Internet that I’d ever seen before—and it was quite blunt and scathing.
Sure, I’ve had my fair share of editorial and peer reviews, and not all of them were glowing (some were downright biting). But with those, I had submitted my work to the mercy of the other people. This, on the other hand, was an unsolicited review.
I’ve since learned my lesson.
Writing for the public is a public exercise. When you put your work out there—on a blog or in a book or other public space—you are essentially submitting your work to the world for review. This happens whether you’re ready for it or not. The more successful or popular your work, the more likely you are to face scrutiny. And, though I have no statistical data, my guess is that most of the people who will comment on your work via articles or blogs are the ones who either really like it—or can’t stand it. The Internet makes commenting free, but it often takes passion to make someone post.
However, I don’t shy away from the negative comments. In fact, I frequently do Google searches to find them (disclosure: only after I’ve steeled myself and only every once in a while). Why? I want to know what weaknesses and problems that others see in my writing. As tough as it is to take sometimes, there’s usually at least some truth in even the harshest comments. That truth pushes me to improve.
The point is that if you want to have a public platform for your writing, no matter what the field, you will face unsolicited reviews. There will likely be a few that will cause you to talk back to the computer screen—especially if they assign a motivation to you that you didn’t intend. But this is the cost we all pay for being in the public space.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with the scrutiny:
- Prepare: The more you bounce your ideas around before you publish them, the better you’ll feel when the critiques come. They’ll still come, but at least your critics won’t point out the word you misspelled and will—hopefully—focus on your content.
- Don’t flame: We all get the urge to justify ourselves. I no longer write something soon after I’ve read a review of my work—and definitely not a comment back. When I used to do that, I almost always made a bigger mess and a fool of myself. Wait until you’ve had time to cool down and examine the claims before you respond—if you do.
- Process: There are some comments about your work that will be of little value, but never dismiss any of them without digging through what’s said. I have found that people innately find chinks in your arguments, bad passages of prose, or other flubs. Some of them may not know how to frame the problem, but they’ll point to some of the specifics. Learn to look for the bigger issues.
Have any of you faced negative reviews? How did you respond?