Every Writer Who Freaks Out About Negative Reviews Needs To Read This Now

Illustration for article titled Every Writer Who Freaks Out About Negative Reviews Needs To Read This Now

Mean book reviews are a fact of life nowadays. And if you spend any time in a workshop, you’re going to hear some pretty harsh feedback. But Cecilia Tan, the erotic speculative fiction mastermind behind the Magic University books, has some brilliant advice on her blog.

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Not only does Tan offer some great ideas about how to deal with harsh criticism of your writing, but she talks about reading stories in her slushpile—and finding that the story that she had the most doubts about was usually the one that her readers ended up loving the most. She adds:

Same thing in my MFA writing workshops in grad school. The stories or chapters or poems that the class argued the most about–meaning some of the students hated it and some loved it–were often the ones I was sure were actually the best stories. I found myself sometimes taking a fellow student aside and telling them, essentially, don’t let the haters get you down. Sometimes you walk out of a workshop feeling like the life’s been beaten out of you because the reaction was so negative from other students. “Don’t feel bad,” I’d say. “Getting a rise out of them is the proof that you’re actually onto something, you’re writing is actually working. When the story doesn’t work, nobody really cares.” The writers by and large who were able to take that negative feedback as a positive sign were the ones who went on to publish and have careers as pros. The ones who were too discouraged to keep going…didn’t.

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The whole thing is brilliant and very much worth reading, if you’re a writer who gets to hear or read other people’s opinions on your stuff. [Cecilia Tan]


Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming Jan 26 from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.

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DISCUSSION

Very good advice.

Another one would be to learn to distinguish people who critize the execution of your writing, and those who critize the very premise of your writing. The former you should listen to, the latter you shouldn’t.

Here’s an example from a workshop I went to once - I had written this story outline for a YA novel about two twins, who knew they were twins, had lived together all their life, and were about to quit for college, who fell in love with each other and, yes, had sex. I had then recently read an article about consensual fraternal incest, and especially about long-term couples of brother and sister, and it fascinated me.

So I got some criticism - some were about form, tone and clichés. Those were for the most part warranted. But their was this one guy who had a twin sister and was just repulsed by the very idea of my story. At first I tried to explain and defend*. Then he said “If you want to explore a taboo relationship, why don’y you have your story takes place in the US South in the 40s and be about a black man and a white woman instead?

It was at that point that I bowed out. I said “I’ll think about it. Who’s next” and moved on. Because I realized that this person didn’t want to make my story better with his criticism. He just wanted me to tell a different.

* At one point he straight out asked of this was some coming out of repressed feeling for my sister. I don’t have a sister, and I felt pretty insulted by the question. That’s like asking a crine writer if they want to commit murder.