The Art of Criticism: Five Types and How to Handle Them

I've been writing since I was a kid just like many of you out there. And like you, I've shared my writing with my community whether it was my parents, siblings, friends, internet forums, writing groups, or professional editors. And, like you, I've had my run-ins with all different sorts of feedback and personalities. 

In this post I explain my top five most commonly experienced criticizers and how I've learned to balance their input with my writing and self-esteem. 

Do any of these ring a bell?
Who have I left out?

Five Types of Criticism and How to Handle Them:



1. The Wet Blanket - Oh the doubter. You know what I mean - that person who isn't very confident in what they have to say (which usually rolls over into other parts of their life) and whose only purpose, though likely unintentional, is to make you doubt yourself and your ability to convey an idea or be bold enough to write something that challenges the general norm. The Wet Blanket.

How to Handle: Step 1: Don't seek their advice. Chances are, you already know they are a wet blanket based on previous experience and conversation with them. If you can't avoid it or they offer their advice unsolicited, steel yourself against their hemming and hawing and keep your head held high. If they have crept in and you feel a need to be pumped up, seek the company of Type #2.


2. The Yes-man - Opposite of The Wet Blanket, this person doesn't really know how to break bad news to you so everything is amazing. Great for a confidence boost - like the last speech a general gives before you run into battle - but they aren't entirely reliable and you're not likely to get much true advice out of them. Everything is rosy and fine. 

How to Handle: Sometimes we need a boost to regain some confidence in ourselves, so I wouldn't say to avoid this person's criticism (or lack there of). Instead, just know your audience and be sure to seek further feedback from other sources in order to improve your work and craft. If you only go to The Yes-man you're only getting one, highly favorable, opinion.


3. The Internet Troll - They float around the internet, hidden in the comfort of their homes and coffee shops and subway seats, protected by the anonymity of the web, a chip on their shoulder and a sneer in their commentary. Maybe they are doing it for laughs, or to impress other people, or because they just don't have anything better to do. Maybe their ego stands in the way of their communication skills. I don't know. I'm not a fan of Internet Trolls no matter the topic of instigation, but they seem to run rampant these days; are even glorified.

How to Handle: Heed their advice like you'd heed a great white shark petting zoo. Do NOT engage! I made this mistake and I've learned from it. Just let them be and don't add fuel to their fire. Say "Thank you for your feedback" and leave it at that. No matter what, don't take it at face value, but don't ignore them completely either. Think logically about their comments and try to fish out any glimmers of truth. Then walk away and doing what you do.


4. The Scholar - Oh yes, they do know everything there is about writing and style and voice and presentation and story arc. So much so that their word should be taken as gospel and any questions of their feedback is blasphemy and a direct insult of their intelligence. They are the kind of person more interested in editing your manuscript to form their world and voice rather than maintaining yours. Beware of the antithesis of this type - The Dropout - who volunteers to edit your work, but spks lyk dis, nah meen?

How to Handle: This type of reviewer would likely be excellent for grammar, punctuation, and spelling feedback. If that is what you are looking for, then this might be your best place to find it. Just make sure you tell them in the beginning that that is all you are looking for.


5. The Builder - An individual who is educated in their field who can offer you constructive criticism that will build you in spirit and skill. These are the kind of people who will tell you what they liked about your writing and then offer you advice on how to improve it. We love these guys.

How to Handle: This is the adviser you want to actively seek out. Work with them and appreciate their time and efforts. Buy them pie. Or don't. Value their input of the manuscript and their feedback. Ask them for help on continuity, sentence flow, and content. Ask for help with spelling, grammar, and punctuation. And write their verbal constructive criticisms down so you can reflect on them later. Lastly, become this person for your writing community.


No matter what, just keep writing!