When can you dismiss criticism?

Taking on board criticism is an important part of life. As writers in particular, we need feedback to grow, improve and potentially perfect our craft (as the marvellous Mary @Mary and the Words talked about recently). It’s therefore no surprise that it’s become a cornerstone of modern writing advice to get that crucial reader response.

AND YET, not all of that criticism is going to be worthwhile. Let’s be real: it’s not always going to be constructive or helpful or relevant. This may be an *unpopular opinion* right now, but you don’t always have to listen to it.  

Sometimes you just have to *take the advice from whence it comes*. If someone, however nicely, says that the style is just not for them or that they don’t read this sort of thing- that’s fine! We all know that taste is subjective, so not everyone is going to be the right reader for your work. Heck- there are plenty of bestselling authors that I don’t jibe with. That’s why you have to be cautious with this kind of advice (And on the offchance, as has happened to me, someone doesn’t like the genre/category you write in and wants you to write to suit their tastes… well they can kindly sod off).  

There is also the issue that not all criticism is designed to be helpful. Especially if they rouse a hate mob against you. Call me a cynic- I just don’t think people trying to destroy a career have an author’s best interests at heart. I know there’s a lot of talk about “learning” and “growing” from those experiences- nonetheless it seems the vast majority advice being doled out is to *run and hide* (in far less friendly terms). And, going beyond this specific example, I think it’s fair to dismiss critiques designed as an attack. Insulting, degrading or being downright abusive are not productive (as the wonderful Rain @the Withering discussed on her blog). On the plus side, those kinds of critiques can get you in the mindset of proving the bastards wrong! 😉

I’d also add that sometimes the criticism is coming too late in the day ie reviews. Yes, you could learn from reviews as an author, buuuut at that stage the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. If you read them, you’ll just waste lot of time wishing you’d written that book differently. Best to leave them alone. After all, reviews are for readers– not the author (and thus shouldn’t be sent to them unsolicited).

Ultimately, criticism can add some much-needed spice to your work, though it’s still worth taking it with a grain of salt 😉

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me that there are times when you can dismiss criticism? And are there any other times when you should just ignore the advice? Let me know in the comments!

23 thoughts on “When can you dismiss criticism?

  1. I think if you listened to every bit of criticism you’d be such as mass of insecurity and second guessing you’d never write anything. There are also a lot of people who seem to take pleasure in hating on stuff. I’d say find people you trust to give you honest and constructive feedback and stick with them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. If the writer gets everything right, there’s less of the negative reviews/comments/critical feedback. However, a lot of stories miss something, somewhere. Sometimes, many things.
    If the cover doesn’t indicate the genre and the reader who picks it up/buys it is annoyed because they were led astray by the first big ticket item and writes that in the feedback, that is valid. The cover should represent the genre at the very least, as should the title (so hard to get so much meaning into so few words), as should the first few hundred words. Getting any part of this wrong means the market is missed and the book is unlikely to sell to the right readers.

    I think that beneath every comment is a fleck of gold-dust. Sometimes, it takes me a while to work out what it is, but if I don’t take notice and learn from it moving forward (even if I don’t fix the book with the critical comment), it’s of value to me and future readers.
    I’m not going to get annoyed, angry or upset about what a reader has to say. Every reader comes to the story with their own history, perspective, and expectations. There is (usually) only one writer, but if there are to be many readers, their needs/expectations are worth considering, even if they don’t know how to say it clearly.

    All that means is that I don’t dismiss or ignore or take it with a grain of salt, not with any comments made by a reader. It’s how they felt about it and it’s not my place to speak out against their voice/opinion. they read it and are entitled to their opinion, and I’m always happy they took the time to put words down about it.

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  3. Hmm, it’s a hard one but I think you can’t listen to every bit of criticism or you’d be a nervous wreck and never do anything. I follow a lot of romance authors on FB and man do they get it in the neck all the time, some people are just bumholes to them, keyboard warriors everywhere. I really don’t know how they do it, guess a thick skin is required.

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  4. When it comes to my reviews, writers can sod all for all I care. MY reviews are for me first, then other readers and NEVER for the writer. They’re not paying me to do their job, so I’m not going to.

    Editors, alpha, beta and prep readers are the people who should be doing this, not reviewers. And writers need to stay the feth out of review spaces.

    Not that I feel at all strongly about this 😉

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  5. Good timing lol. I just received a comment on my blog calling me a “faggot” for not liking a popular romantic pairing. I guess they sure showed me for having an opinion xD In all seriousness, I think criticism is a good tool for teaching writers what does and doesn’t work in a story, but I agree that not all critique is created equal. I think whether or not criticism is productive is dependent upon how it is packaged. If it comes across as an attack, there isn’t much use in saying anything. Nobody is going to learn anything from it and–if you’re anything like me–you will come across one of these bile-ridden comments and just think the person responsible for it is an unhappy person just trying to ruin someone’s day. In order for me to internalize a review or critique, the person giving the criticism should give at least a half-hearted attempt to defend their points. Reviews like “this book was stpd” aren’t helpful. If they answer *why* the book is stupid, pointing out examples where there are obvious lapses in logic, then this *is* helpful because I can take this information and ascertain for myself whether or not I should read the book. I can’t do anything with “This was dumb” “I hate this character” or “This should never have been written” because what someone else considers dumb, and what I consider dumb are two different things.

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  6. I trend toward caution when reviewing a book. There are certain genres that don’t appeal to me but that plenty of other readers love. Some writers present their story premise in a way that I can’t relate to, or characters I find unsympathetic or events I find too improbable. (Of course, fiction is in its essence improbable.) If I dislike a book, I’ll write why in my personal book journal, but I don’t need to publicly bash a writer. However I may dislike their work, I recognize that they put their heart, soul, and labor into that manuscript for a year or two or six, and I have no right to destroy them in the process of deciding not to buy another of their books.

    When I read extremely negative reviews, I try to figure out the bias, and if it seems off kilter, I discount that review and any other reviews from that person. Our online life lets us anonymously be as nasty and slashing as can be imagined. I suggest those who tend toward ripping books to shreds (or ripping anything or anyone to shreds) take up kick boxing and practice against a cardboard image of themselves.

    Seriously, a review is an opinion – we should all take a deep breath.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have the same issue with a lot of criticism leveled online. The criticism can be completely valid– but the reality is that most people aren’t going to listen, to learn and grow, etc. if it seems aggressive or mean-spirited. I also think there’s a numbers issue involved. Even if people are completely right about something…the person on the receiving end of the criticism is probably going to feel bullied and ganged up on if there are 100 people on Twitter explaining to them why they’re wrong.

    The Internet is such a weird place because people will level horrible accusations against people, publicly, and invite other people to join them in explaining why that person is wrong…and then act completely surprised the person is defensive or “feels attacked.” We don’t offer criticism in other scenarios that way. Good teachers don’t call students to the front of the class and tell they why they’re wrong and then ask other teachers and students to chime in, and then suggest no one needs to mince words or offer positive comments because it’s vital the student understands how wrong they were. And that’s not how good managers offer constructive criticism in the workplace.

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  8. I think that modern ways of criticism have an immediacy that frames feedback and reviews in a very different way. Where once the critic would engage with a text, then react in a way that was subject to some moderation. It was written in draft (typed or longhand), then edited (self edited or by an editor) then revised and so on. It took time, so that initial reaction was tempered by the constraints of the medium.

    Now it is very possible to read something, dislike it and instantly post a review based on that non-reflective gut reaction. That’s a very different thing to criticism, but is dressed up in the same context that criticism was wrapped up in.

    So you get all these responses born out of immediacy, and that’s not invalid, just different. Art however should be digested and given time, which the internet model doesn’t encourage. Now it’s important to be first and be fast, at the cost of reflection and nuance.

    So I’d still treat it the same as any other criticism, and ignore anything that doesn’t suit my ego!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Similar to your points above … I once had a prof who gave advice on the four types of feedback you receive.

    1) Feedback that’s expected … i.e., you already know it’s a weakness. It’s nothing new. (Strategy: make the changes you were already going to make; and/or accept your flaws.)

    2) Feedback that’s entirely useless and irrelevant … like, when students give class feedback along the lines of “I don’t like the prof’s clothes.” (Strategy: ignore it.)

    3) Feedback on things that you’ve done for a reason — but which they don’t like. Like, when an author ships two people that the reader doesn’t agree with; uses a certain style or device; etc. (Strategy: ignore it.)


    4) Feedback that’s actually helpful

    … Unfortunately, #4 tends to be the most rare.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I agree with you. There is never any need for being rude, for bashing, and for taking your own frustrations out on the author. It’s fine if something isn’t your cup of tea. In such cases, I dismiss it as a personal preference. As a reader, I do the same thing with reviews. I value them but I take them with a grain of salt.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree! I think if you’re getting feedback/soliciting criticism (for writing, anyway), it’s best to solicit from more than one person (ideally more than two or three people) and make sure that they are the target audience – you want to know what your idea reader thinks in general, not one one person who may or may not be representative thinks.

    And as for negative reviews – I really see them as more for readers than for authors. Like you said, it’s too late to change the book. There’s no reason to bash an author, but there’s no reason not to mention parts of the book you didn’t like and discuss why.

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  12. Two thoughts.

    1. The responsibility to try to understand each other goes both ways. Readers are supposed to want to understand what an author is doing, too. That’s why it’s nonsense when mobs are triggered by an author’s use of a word or concept or trope that the mob has recently and unilaterally defined to be problematic. “Learning” from this does not mean learning about the world at large, it means learning that particular mob’s special rules for How Not to Offend Us, which are far more exacting than the average reader’s rules and are changed frequently. It reminds me of a toxic relationship I once had, but I digress.

    2. I am of a personality type that really tends to take criticism to heart and tends to be devastated by it. In practice, this means I reject ALL criticism initially. But don’t worry, folks, I won’t forget your feedback. I will definitely keep chewing on it. Therefore, if it has merit, rest assured that I will eventually recognize this and your input will not have been in vain.
    I read somewhere that, when asked to do something, an Introvert will often respond, “Nope, can’t do it,” and then come back a few days later having done exactly what was asked, once they have had a chance to process the request and make it their own.

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  13. As a writer, there are many times that you should just ignore the advice. I have learnt it the hard way. A creative writing instructor once told me that my writing is too emotional. And I rationalised it in my mind because yeah, I did feel that my writing drained me. It made me tired … But, tired or not. That is my style and it’s there to stay. 😅

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  14. There are definitely times you can dismiss criticism. You should listen to all advice, but it doesn’t mean you have to take it. This was something taught in one of my creative modules at university. Even an editor might offer criticism you disagree with and that’s okay. It’s your work at the end of the day.

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing my post! It’s such a tricky balance to manage, whether or not to listen to criticism, and you’re so right, it’s important to listen to it sometimes, but also important to remember yourself and listen to what you know to be true. Not all criticism is going to be right, but it’s fair to listen to it anyway to be able to acknowledge the difference between the two.

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