11 Writers on How They Deal With Criticism

Even for the most successful writers, criticism can hurt. A teacher, a colleague, a friend, or — most importantly — a book reviewer’s thoughts on your writing can be a verbal torpedo. One can only imagine what Richard Ford thought when he read Alice Hoffman’s reaction to his book, The Sportswriter, in The New York Times: “it suffers from a lack of compelling action and an emphasis on Bascombe’s dry meditations that obscures and minimizes the complex domestic structure the author initially presents.”

In fact, Ford got so angry about the review that he famously took one of Hoffman’s books and shot it full of bullets. At the time, two tepidly received novels plus Hoffman’s negative review, Ford’s career looked to be in the toilet.

Of course, that’s not how it turned out. The Sportswriter is today considered a classic, and Ford is a well-known author. And although Flavorwire doesn’t endorse shooting up books as a way to deal with somebody disliking your work, every writer has a different way of dealing with criticism — and, in many cases, using it to their advantage. We asked 11 of our favorite authors to tell us how they cope with bad reviews and other negative feedback.

GoodbyeToAllThat_ negative_review
I try really hard to consider the source before I let myself feel insulted or get defensive, but if it seems like a legitimate critique, I try to take it in and be informed by it. That’s often easier said than done, of course. I realize that no one book or essay is for everyone. I can allow for that, in my mind. There are the snarky writers who hate everything, whom I don’t even bother to pay attention to. There are several whom I already know hate my next book, and my next book isn’t even done. Zie Gezunt; live and be well. I do my best to resist responding when people are really harsh, but there are times when they have mis-read, or even not read what they’re commenting on, and then their misinterpretations are out there for everyone else to be misled by. For instance, a lot of people assumed, without getting a copy and reading Goodbye to All That, that it was a collection of 28 anti-NYC screeds. I was glad I spoke up and disabused several writers of that misconception. It led to a major correction on Jezebel, and to a follow-up interview on Brooklyn Magazine’s site.