Bad reviews happen to every writer at one point or another. Sometimes they're very public, one star reviews on Amazon or Good Reads. Other times, they're more private like a beta telling you a particular story, scene, or chapter is horrible.
They're a part of any creative venture. Therefore, it's imperative that anyone with ambitions to be a writer, artist, musician, or any other kind of creator makes peace with the fact not everyone will love what they do. Part of making peace with the inevitability of negative feedback is learning how to deal with it. How you react can have a major impact on your physical and mental health as well as your professional reputation.
Recognize it's going to make you sad, angry, and/or defensive.
Negative reviews hurt. When you create, you're putting a bit of your soul out there for the world to see. You pour blood, sweat, and tears into your work. It's going to sting when someone says they're no good.
The newer you are to whatever it is you do, the more it's likely to hurt. Not only is this because you're still "fresh skinned," but chances are, you're still learning. It's natural to make mistakes early on, and the more of them you make, the more they'll be brought up.
The key is what you do with that hurt. You can either let it stop you in your tracks, or you can use it to fuel your next project. Run from it, or learn from it.
Bite your tongue.
Because negative reviews hurt, they create an urge to lash out. This can take the form of responding via comments or email. It can also make you want to "vaguebook" or write a rant post or go crying to your friends.
Step away from the keyboard. Put your phone in a drawer. Go somewhere off by yourself and cry or rant until you get it out of your system. But for the sake of your professional reputation and to keep yourself from cringing at your behavior for years to come, bite your tongue.
You can delete a post or a thread, but once something's online, it can haunt you forever. Text doesn't always convey emotion the way you want it to, and you can make yourself sound like a child throwing a tantrum or like you've had a psychotic episode fast when you're angry and hurting. Just don't do it.
You might think it's safe enough to rant to a friend in confidence, but it's still not a good idea. Things get brought up in conversation all the time, and the next thing you know, your friend might blurt out how you reacted as an "innocent, funny anecdote." Depending on when, how, and where this happens, it could mean nothing, or it could ruin your professional reputation or hurt others.
Take a step back.
Deal with any overflow of emotions, and then go back to the review with a clear head. Take a step back from your work and take a look at the review. When rereading it, try to look at your work as if it was done by someone else, someone you didn't know. Is there truth to the review? Is there something useful in it you can use to improve?
Just like bad reviews, trolls come with the territory, usually as a sign you've done well enough to attract their attention. You'll know them by the fact their "reviews" are full of vitriol with no substance. They probably didn't even read, look at, or listen to your work. They saw someone with an audience, and they decided to try and stir up a bit of drama for fun. Ignore them.
A distinct lack of drama and reaction starves trolls, and their numbers diminish as they migrate to more fertile ground.
You don't want to ignore honest reviews because they're negative, though. True reviews will contain constructive criticism. Those reviewers will say why they didn't like the work. They can still be difficult to hear, especially at first, but they can also be helpful.
Once the original wave of hurt, sadness, and anger subsides, take a look at their points. Do they hold weight? Is there something within them you can learn from to make your next project better?
It's easy to try and forget negative reviews after a bit, but it's not a terrific idea. Don't let them paralyze you, but don't let their lessons pass you by either. Keep them in mind enough to use what you've learned from them in your work as you go on. Make them a learning tool.
It gets easier.
As with anything, practice makes perfect. Negative reviews continue to sting, but they become less devastating over time. The more work you do, the less it feels like your "baby." The longer you hone a craft, the more you come to realize how little you actually know.
It's surprising how much confidence we have when we're just starting out. Or well, at least those of us who started creating as children. When you think your work is just wonderful, it hurts more to hear that's not true than it does when you realize you have a long way to go. Time, experience, and endless lessons teach you these things are a process.
I'll paraphrase what I can remember of some encouragement Anne McCaffrey gave me back in the late 90s, when she was still regularly speaking with people through her chatroom. "Writing's a craft. No one learns it in a day. It takes a lifetime." It's just as true of any other creative venture.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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