Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey
What’s this episode about?
Welcome to Episode 3 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.
We’re midway through season four, so it’s the best place to tackle a sensitive topic – receiving criticism. In this episode, I will discuss why criticism is important, and how to spot when a negative review might be useless to you. Then, on the mental health side of things, I will look into how to process feedback while still maintaining your feeling of self-worth.
Feedback is good for you
Most writers have heard or know that feedback is important. Some beginners however are only happy when they receive compliments as feedback and either get discouraged when they get critiqued, or offended. So I wanted to very briefly summarize why getting any sort of feedback, positive, negative and everything in between, is a useful tool in your writer’s journey.
An article by Haley Grant identifies three main benefits to receiving feedback on your written work. Feedback is crucial because it improves learning, enhances relationships and promotes growth. Receiving comments in relation to your writing helps you see your work from a different perspective. Writers are often too close to their words and it’s wise to listen to critique – this way the piece will be streamlined and much improved. Relationships between writers and those who read their writing, be it clients, customers or fellow writers, are really important. When a writer listens to reader feedback, readers feel seen and listened to. They feel a part of the creative journey and are thus more engaged. And finally, feedback is essential because it keeps a writer from going stagnant. It helps creative people who are willing to listen to focus their energy on self-improvement, analysis and self-reflection. Nurturing these skills is not only important for your writing journey but also for your growth as an individual in world which increasingly places value on authenticity.
Not all criticism is constructive
Now that we’ve established that feedback of all kinds helps you grow, let’s talk about the fact that not all criticism of you and your writing is constructive. Sometimes people are mean for no reason related to you and there’s nothing you can do to improve following their comments.
To illustrate my point, I will give you a bit of homework. Go to a book’s Amazon or Goodreads page, any book, and look at a few five-star reviews. Then filter all reviews and look at the one-star ones. Notice how many of the points made there relate to the reader and not the writer.
One of the books I was amazed by recently, and which made it into my sparse list of five-star reads, was The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. I love it because it was a beautifully written fantasy book which was thought-provoking as much as it was entertaining. But here is a one-star review of it:
‘This book weighs 1119 grams…I have a 1 kilo limit so my books don’t knock me out if I fall asleep reading them 🙂 Also it takes itself so fekkin seriously and lately I’m into writers who make me laugh along the way.’
This is the worst review a writer can get – it doesn’t say anything about the writing, or the plot, and only speaks about the reader. It also fails to inform other readers about why this book would or wouldn’t be for them. The size of the book and its tone are obvious from the listings and the blurb, and delivered in much less aggravating way.
So I ask you, for the sake of your mental health and your writer journey, evaluate criticism first before you take it to heart. Think whether you have found the correct audience – maybe it’s not your writing but the way you market and advertise your work. Maybe the time for it is a bit wrong. Whatever it is, try to understand the underlying reason for negative feedback received, and if you can’t find out, it’s more than likely that it’s an issue with the reviewer and not you. Let it go and move on to other constructive comments.
The book to which you owe listening to this podcast. The Lavender Phantom, my upcoming romance thriller, is now available for presale at a special price for all the early birds. It’s 25% off and if you preorder now, you can join me in my preorder giveaway and win some gift cards, books and tea.
All details can be found on my website www.laineydelaroque.com/books. The creation of that book has informed a lot of the content I’ve discussed in this podcast, so I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s not been an easy journey but I’ve learned a lot along the way about writing, mental health and productivity.
Unattach your self-worth from your achievements (or lack thereof)
Many people, not only writers, believe that consistent achievement in life makes them a worthy member of society. If they’re contributing to the greater good somehow, they know their existence is not meaningless. They think if they pursue socially defined life goals like marriage, having children, earning big money, receiving peer acclaim, they would be happy, fulfilled, and most importantly, worthy.
But what does it mean to be a worthy human, or a worthy creator? Does having a mental health illness which prevents you from consistently writing make you less of a writer? Or is an obscure poet who loves their craft less worthy than a best-selling author who doesn’t enjoy writing too much anymore? Is there an issue in any of those scenarios when it comes to worthiness?
I, and many more around the globe, argue that people are intrinsically worthy of their life and aspirations. If you’ve ever compared yourself to other people and felt lacking and less worthy of success than them, maybe it’s time to unattach your self-worth from your achievements, or lack thereof.
In a Ted Talk about Cultivating Unconditional Self-Worth, Dr. Adia Gooden makes a clear distinction between self-esteem and self-worth: “Our self-esteem is derived from our abilities, accomplishments, social positions and things we believe and we can achieve. We can bolster our self-esteem by improving our skills or performance, and our self-esteem goes up and down depending on how we’re doing in various aspects of our lives.
“In contrast, unconditional self-worth is distinct from our abilities and accomplishments. It’s not about comparing ourselves to others; it’s not something that we can have more or less of. Unconditional self-worth is the sense that you deserve to be alive, to be loved and cared for. To take up space.”
Cultivate unconditional self-worth
So, to bring this back to writing, how do we cultivate unconditional self-worth when it comes to our creative selves? How do we reconcile the difficult emotions which come with receiving rejection, negative feedback, sometimes downright hate for the work we’ve poured our hearts and souls into? Dr. Gooden suggests four ways, which might not always be easy but can be very beneficial if adopted with patience and care.
“Many of us struggle to feel worthy, because we are angry with ourselves about past mistakes.[…] To forgive yourself, reflect on the circumstances that led to past mistakes, acknowledge the pain you experienced and identify what you learned from the situation. Then say to yourself “I forgive you” — in an honest and kind way.”
Writers can regret their reactions to negative feedback or blame themselves for a book’s bad sales record. Let go of the baggage that blame carries, and try harder the next time you’re in a similar situation.
“Many of us struggle with low self-worth because we think there’s something wrong with us and we refuse to accept ourselves the way we are. We receive so many messages that we are not OK the way we are. […] See if you can let go of the thoughts you have about how the way you think, feel or look should be different. Instead, focus on the things you like about yourself. Over time, begin to embrace your quirks.”
These quirks are probably what will set you apart from other writers, they are going to be the small things that readers love about your characters and plots. You’re a writer because you have something to say, a story to tell which only you can tell. So embrace that and celebrate it.
Be there for yourself
“When life gets rough, many of us engage in harsh self-criticism — which only leaves us feeling worse. What we need most when we are going through a difficult time is for someone to say ‘I see you. I see how badly you’re hurting. I’m here.’ We can do this for ourselves. The next time you experience emotional pain, acknowledge how you were feeling and offer yourself some comfort.”
So don’t bash yourself for the next bad review you receive. Don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s only natural for you to get it, that you’re not a good writer after all. Recognize that you’re hurt— there’s nothing wrong with that— and tend to yourself before you address the feedback. Come to it from a place of inner strength and understanding.
Connect with supportive people
“Low self-worth can leave us feeling isolated and alone. When we think there’s something wrong with us, we tend to pull away from our relationships, and this isolation only exacerbates our feelings of unworthiness. Connecting to people who are supportive helps us to get in touch with our humanity and our sense of worth.”
So reach out to your writer friends, your communities of writers who undoubtedly also get bad reviews and bad days. Share your pain and allow yourself to believe that what they tell you is true. Let them uplift you as you would uplift them in their time of need. Other writers are not only there for you when you need inspiration as I said in season 3, they’re also there to support you when being a writer is not as nice as it sounds.
sO, TO SUMMARIZE…
Feedback is important. Writers learn from it, improve their writing craft and use it to build long-lasting relationships with fellow authors and readers. Not all feedback is constructive, so it’s best to let some negative comments go and not let them affect your feeling of self-worth. Your writing achievements do not determine whether you’re a worthy writer, you are by default because you enjoy your creative journey and have a story to tell. Cultivating unconditional self-worth can help you maintain good mental health which is invaluable for any writer’s creative practice.
Next week The Pen Garden will have an unexpected break because I won’t have access to my recording equipment and didn’t have the organizational prowess to pre-record an episode. But I’m sure you’ll all be fine during the holiday season – resting, writing and reflecting on this difficult year. So the next episode will come on 5th January. Its topic will be very timely – focusing on how to set achievable, personalized writing goals. It is the best episode to listen to before you decide on your New Year’s writing resolutions.
If you haven’t joined my newsletter yet, you’re missing out. I’ve now sent my first few ones and I’m really enjoying the process. Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. They all feature a cute animal and a book recommendation which can improve either your mental health or your productivity as a writer. Feedback about the newsletters has been really positive so far, so after you finish this episode, go sign up. And if you think they can be improved, email me and I promise that I will do my best.
If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.
- How to accept and improve from feedback as a writer (website article)
- The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (book)
- How to cultivate a sense of unconditional self-worth (website article)
- Writing friends, writing communities and writing retreats (Podcast episode)
Listen and subscribe
Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:
Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3: