#IWSG Insecure Writer's Support Group: Criticism in Perspective

It's a hard, brutal fact all writers have to accept. Some people aren't going to like your work. No matter how good it is, no matter how hard you've worked, someone is going to say it's terrible.

It's easy enough to say in theory that you can't please everyone, but when you're staring at a bad review, it hurts. It feels like you've failed.

There's this peculiar trait I have, and from talking to other writers, it's not unique to me. I once wrote an online story that had over seven thousand reviews. I got five really nasty ones. Guess which ones I could quote verbatim?

Why do we do this to ourselves? We hold ourselves to a ridiculous standard when we expect our work to be a hit with everyone. There has never been a writer who was successful with every reader. Look up any of your favorites on Amazon.com and you'll find people who think it's mediocre or just plain awful.

Compare our standards to other professions. Presidents are elected with less than 51% of the vote. No matter who is in office, you can expect at least 30% of the population to think they're doing an awful job. Most writers would be crushed if their work had 30% of readers who thought it was terrible.

Sort of puts it into perspective, doesn't it?  No matter who you are in life, or what you do, someone is going to dislike it.

One of the worst parts about negative criticism is that we sometimes fear they're actually right, that our work is awful. And it's possible they are, but even if that's true, it's still okay. Failure is a part of leading a creative life. Sometimes, we're going to be unsuccessful. It's all part of the learning and growing process. Again, it's ridiculous to hold ourselves to a standard of perfection.

Ty Cobb had the best batting average of all time at .366. That means he had to walk away from the plate two out of every three times, not having a hit. The greatest quarterbacks in the NFL only complete their passes 66% of the time, and the best basketball player in the NBA hits only about 64% shots. Each of these players has to walk away at least a third of the time, knowing they've "failed." Yet these people are celebrated in the Hall of Fame as the greatest players of all time.

Keep this in mind: unlike those pro athletes, writers actually improve as they age. Our "average" will go up over time. Criticism can be valuable when it helps us improve our work, but sometimes, we just have to accept it as an inevitable part of the creative life.

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You can see my other posts for the Insecure Writer's Support Group here, and visit the main blogroll here.


  1. What a great perspective you put this in. Thanks for the reminder. Hopefully, when I finally finish my WIP, I'll remember your words of wisdom!


    1. I always feel especially empathetic with new writers first offering their work to the outside world. It can be such a fragile time for a new writer, and I've sadly seen some too stung by the harsh nature of criticism to continue. That's why we especially need one another to offer support.

  2. What a great post! I like this stats, they are making me feel better about the critical nature of art. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! It's a tough world for creators today. In the days of yore, all artists and writers had to worry about was a few critics in newspaper. Now, we have thousands of critics. And with so many people entering the market to offer their work, it can be harder to reach your target audience.

      But we persevere. And we have one another to offer encouragement and support.

  3. Oh I feel so much better about those two horrific reviews I have not been able to get out of my mind. Great insite!

    1. I'm sorry that happened to you. Reviews can be brutal sometimes. I think sometimes people forget that authors are people, too. Being on the other side of the screen has certainly made me think harder about how I phrase my responses to people. I want my criticism to be helpful and uplifting, not hurtful.

      There are also people out there who just love to be negative. There are actually reviewers dedicated to that purpose, giving bad reviews to almost every book they read or movie they watch. All I can think of when I encounter such a person is how sad it must be to never find a book you like!

      What you have to do when you get a bad review is go get a cup of tea, or just click away for a while until you feel less emotionally stung and then look at it to see if there's anything helpful you can take away from it. Some of my reviews for my first book complained that my book was too slow, so with my next one, I paid careful attention to the pacing. See if there's anything valuable you can glean from it, and if not, you have to find a way to put it into its proper perspective.

      There's an old Arabic saying: "The dogs may bark, but the caravan passes on." Only you can decide if you're going to stop your caravan to listen to the barking, or if you're going to keep on going.

  4. Bad reviews can be heartbreaking, but I love the perspective you put on it. We all know we won't be able to please every reader out there, but you should only worry about the ones who you CAN please.

  5. I agree your perspective rocks! As authors we forget these statistics and we only see the "bad review." This happened me last night, I found a 1 star review on my novel No Place to Run, and I was really bummed. The reader didn't get the story at all which was frustrating for me, but that's what happens sometimes and like you said, not everyone is going to love what you write.


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