Approaching negative comments as a writer

Ilana Quinn

A few months ago, I received my first negative comment.

After creating a solid online presence as a writer on the storytelling platform Wattpad, I had engaged with thousands of other writers and readers, sharing and receiving constructive criticisms and helpful writing tips.

I felt I was comfortable hearing both the good and the bad about my writing — so long as the more critical comments provided actionable feedback. I also shared my writing with the people in my life I knew were honest and spent countless hours editing and re-editing my drafts.

I was especially proud of one story in particular. I had spent hours pouring over historical research, editing, and re-writing, so my novel was the best it could be. My efforts paid off, with the book receiving thousands of positive comments and winning several online contests, including the largest one on Wattpad. I had created major characters I adored and constructed a world I thought about often. The story was personal to me.

So when the following words appeared in my notifications, my stomach dropped.

This story is HORRIBLE… posted without even editing. I couldn’t get through 2 paragraphs.

I was horrified. All the previous positive comments and accolades faded into the background as I stared at the fluorescent letters on the screen, my mind spinning as a million questions ran through my mind.

Is my writing that bad? Were all those positive comments just meant to inflate my ego? Am I one of those singers who go on American Idol to discover they don’t have the talent their friends and family told them they had? Should I reconsider this as a real career path?

I am slightly embarrassed to admit how affected I was. The comment came from an anonymous profile with no activity on the website, created only a few days prior.

Regardless, I was still hurt by this stranger’s comment, forcing me to re-evaluate how I receive non-constructive criticism as a writer.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

After reflecting on the negative comment I received, I came to a simple realization. Not everyone is going to like my writing.

Each writer has a unique voice and perspective, making their writing more palatable to certain readers than others. They write about different subjects, characters, places, and themes. Some people will relate more to one author’s work than another’s because of a multitude of reasons.

Writing is almost like cooking in that way. Some people love pizza with pineapples, while others detest it. There’s no tangible way of measuring whether Hawaiian pizza is objectively good, since as humans — our tastes are very subjective.

Like our physical taste buds, literary tastes vary vastly between individual people. Some readers detest thriller novels. Others love them. Some readers only read contemporary novels, while others — such as myself — prefer historical stories.

For example, two of my close friends are polar opposites when it comes to their reading choices. One of them adores highly detailed prose with an abundance of vivid imagery. The other enjoys more straightforward storytelling. This shows that even within a group of friends, individuals enjoy different content, which is absolutely normal.

Now, with platforms housing massive audiences through which writers and other artists can showcase their work, creators are bound to receive negative comments. It is frankly impossible to please everyone.

What is important is engaging an audience that responds to your stories. If your work is resonating with many people, there’s a very good chance your story is well written.

Don’t focus on the negative

While receiving constructive criticism is absolutely healthy and something writers can grow from, negative comments with no actionable feedback are unhelpful and hurtful.

Unfortunately, as a writer posting content to the internet and elsewhere, it is more than likely your work will garner unhelpful negative comments. I can guarantee each one of the most renowned authors on earth has encountered its share of these types of comments. Find your favorite book on Goodreads and you will see not everyone enjoys it as much as you.

Instead of focussing on these negative comments, it is important to learn from the constructive criticisms offered by other readers and writers, as well as the compliments that can help fuel your writing.

If a critical comment offers something you can learn from — such as a reader questioning the believability of your plot or the charm of one of your characters — consider their feedback. However, if an anonymous profile drops an unhelpful, negative comment against the backdrop of overwhelmingly positive comments, pay it no mind.

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