The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
And whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
~ Proverbs 17:27 (NIV)
There have always been writers and artists who have channeled their pain and suffering into great works of art. But I don’t think that many creative people would go so far as to identify themselves with the romantic myth of the “tortured artist” that’s followed such famous writers as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, or Ernest Hemingway, who tragically took their own lives.
Nevertheless, I can certainly understand how criticism that seems undeserved or unduly harsh could make any creative person feel hurt or even depressed. Fortunately, I haven’t been on the receiving end of that brand of criticism, but it’s not hard to imagine how it could be soul destroying and might at least momentarily affect one’s sanity.
As a writer, I have found that it’s absolutely essential to develop a thick skin if one is to accept and benefit from the negative feedback and numerous rejections that are our inevitable and undesirable lot in life. While unnecessarily negative criticism may destroy our motivation, constructive criticism can be good—it helps us grow. On the other hand, too much praise can also be destructive, leaving us prideful, complacent, and unmotivated to improve.
As a writer and an editor, I’ve been on both sides now. As a writer, it leaves a less bitter taste in my mouth when the remedy for any ailment is delivered with a spoonful of sugar. I try to remember that as an editor, but I confess that sometimes I fail to properly follow this prescription, especially when a deadline is looming.
I have learned that editing someone else’s work requires a lot of time and effort, and so does providing thoughtful and tactful feedback. We editors do care about your writing, and we want you to succeed. While my goal as an editor is to provide constructive feedback that will help you improve your writing and publish the best piece possible, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to accept every change that’s suggested. In the end, the writer makes the final decision about what they will say and how they will say it; the editor makes the final decision about whether or not they will publish it.
Never allow yourself to feel so hurt and insulted by what you perceive as negative criticism that you fail to place any value on it or learn from it. There is always room to improve your writing, so accept with a positive spirit whatever value you can glean from the critiques you’re offered. In the end, remember that all criticism is just someone else’s opinion of your work, and you’ll need to decide for yourself whether or not it is valid.
Take heart in the knowledge that many writers have gone on to become successful and famous authors after receiving negative feedback about their writing from editors or having their books rejected by prestigious publishers. Ernest Hemingway received this rejection from his publisher, Boni & Liveright, for his first long work, The Torrents of Spring, a satirical novella about pretentious writers: “It would be in extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.” Zane Grey, famous for his westerns and one of the first millionaire authors, suffered this stinging rejection of his first novel, The Last of the Plainsmen: “I do not see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.” Rudyard Kipling was on the receiving end of this painful pronouncement from an unidentified editor: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”¹
So, the key takeaway is don’t let criticism of your writing get you down and never give up!
¹Flip Wiltgren, 12 Rejections Letters of Massively Popular Authors. https://www.wiltgren.com/everything-else/12-rejection-letters-of-massively-popular-authors/