Advice on handling criticism

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article on handling criticism…

What to you do when someone criticizes your writing? Put your hands over your ears? Argue with them? Criticize their writing?

In a recent Brain Picking‘s post, Maria Popova summarizes how some of the great writers of the 20th century figured out the best ways of handling criticism. Her source is the 1989 George Plimpton book titled The Writer’s Chapbook.

I particularly liked the advice of Truman Capote (pictured above), which was:

Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.

And I also appreciated John Irving’s backhanded compliment to critics everywhere:

Listen very carefully to the first criticism of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the reviewers don’t like; it may be the only thing in your work that is original and worthwhile.

But perhaps Thornton Wilder offered the most acute prescription for criticized writers:

The important thing is that you make sure that neither the favorable nor the unfavorable critics move into your head and take part in the composition of your next work.

As Wilder suggests, however you decide to react to critics, it’s important that you never allow them to stop you from writing…



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