How to Handle Criticism and Rejection
by Donna L.H. Smith
Your boss criticizes your work. Your teacher gives you a bad grade. Not only do you not place in a contest, you get stinging comments from a judge.
As a writer, I’m regularly critiqued, edited, and otherwise told to change my text. It can get downright discouraging if I don’t have the proper attitude. I was adopted, and I have the personality type that is affected by rejection. It feels personal, when it’s really not. That kind of rejection feels like a stab wound in the gut by a Bowie knife, when to most people, it would feel more like a paper cut.
The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to handle criticism and rejection correctly.
A couple years ago, I was involved in a project which included three other writers. At first, it sounded fun and exciting. Our book proposal was accepted by a small publisher. We started writing our manuscripts. It was clear early on that I had no idea how to write a traditional romance. I admit to having some sort of brain cramp in the beginning, but God showed me what I needed to do to correct my work. I was thankful, but some harsh criticism from the others, plus their belief that I couldn’t make the necessary changes in time for our submission deadline, hurt.
On this project, five other sets of eyeballs critiqued my nearly 95% re-write. That’s humbling and valuable. It sure broke me of being fearful of critique and criticism. It can be frustrating however, when as I call it “dueling critiquers” disagree on what words I should or should not use. At that point, it’s up to me to decide, but ultimately, the submitting agent has the last word.
I was able to do what I needed to do. They were somewhat amazed, I’m happy to say. God showed me that the worth was in the work. Our manuscripts were not selected for publication, but I learned valuable lessons through this whole process.
When we or our work/performance is evaluated by others for whatever reason, sometimes we become over-sensitive. It’s easy to do. We “take” it personally, don’t we? Even when it’s not meant to be.
As a person with rejection issues since before birth, I have to allow myself time to process and release the hurt, the anger and other emotions. And I’ve had to deal with a couple of downright strange rejections—like an award-winning agent’s intern who didn’t know the difference between an administrative instruction and what they should actually type in an email subject line—or the conference organizers who didn’t have their facts straight about what contest winners were or were not in attendance.
It’s all in how I decided to handle it.
I have a three-part method to help us process our emotional wounds. It comes down to forgive, release, move on.
We must forgive, or we will not be forgiven. Jesus said that. It can be hard when we hurt so much. Jesus went on to say, when asked how many times we should forgive in a day’s time: seventy times seven. That’s four hundred ninety times! In a day! Wow. Jesus was certainly making a point, wasn’t He?
I learned the concept of forgiveness early in life. I grew up in a state and an era where redheads were uncommon. Rusty tin can. Catsup bottle. Tomato juice. These are only a few of the names (and they were meant to be derogatory). And that was just my hair color. My maiden name was hard to pronounce and was frequently butchered when substitute teachers or others mispronounced it (accidently or on purpose).
I also had whom I’ll call a “fickle” friend. We grew up together in grade school and were good friends, but when we got to junior high, for her, it was all about her being popular. Since I was never going to be popular, she would ignore me when passing by me in the hall. Later, she’d call me on the phone, maybe ask me to come stay all night that weekend. One day, I got so angry with her, I came home from school and tore up all the pictures I had of her from our grade school yearly pictures. You know, the ones you trade with your friends.
No matter what it is you’re criticized for—whether it be writing, your performance in a play, a piano lesson, how well you keep house, bake a cake, make a lasagna or on the job—take what you can from the criticism offered. Try not to take it personally (even if it’s meant to be). Even in the harshest criticism, there’s a grain of truth. You might have to dig deep to find it, but you’ll be able to.
Forgiveness isn’t about letting the perpetrator off the hook. It’s not. It’s about us releasing our pain. Our hurt. Our wound.
How do you let go? For me, it’s writing. Those two weird rejections I talked about? As soon as I blogged about them, the feelings were released. Gone. I was at peace again.
I’m sure if I said something to that fickle friend today, she wouldn’t even remember she treated me like that. I know, because evidently, I did the same thing to someone else—who recently reminded me of it. I didn’t remember. I was horrified. She’d forgiven me a long time ago (because she knew I had been treated like that), but wow! I felt ashamed. Bless her heart.
Releasing is part of growing. We grow out of diapers, training pants, tricycles and into driver’s licenses, cars, college and fulltime jobs. We’re constantly growing in some way.
If we don’t, we stagnate and lose ground. Holding on to hurt only harms us. Like I said, the person who caused the pain might not even know she wounded you.
So—free yourself! Release the pain in whatever way works for you. Write, journal, build something, bake something, soothe a friend’s wound, hug your family. Whatever works. Everyone is different.
Once the negative feelings are released, you’re free to move forward in life—whatever that means for you.
For me, it meant to continue to hone my craft. To persevere. To see just how fast I can process and get rid of negative feelings.
Rejection and criticism used to sideline me for days. Sometimes weeks—or more. Now I try to see how quickly I can get through the worst of the feelings. Most of the time now, it’s hours, or maybe a day. It’s helped me to move forward.
My first book came out last year. It was the one that received all kinds of criticism and rejections. I processed the criticism and made changes as necessary.
This year, it’s made the finals of two prestigious writing contests. To me, that’s like making the Olympic team or getting on the Honor Roll or winning a sports trophy. It shows me that my perseverance pays off. My husband’s a competitive runner. Ever since I’ve known him, he usually places or wins his age group. That’s what making the finals of these contests is like for me.
Moving forward will keep you growing. Don’t let anything hold you back.
Excerpts from I Peter 2:19-23 say, “For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment…But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.”
We should do the same.
Donna L.H. Smith, a Kansas prairie girl transplanted to Lancaster County, PA, has written her debut historical romance western, Meghan’s Choice, a finalist in both the Selah and Will Rogers Medallion Awards. She leads workshops on writing and inner healing through writing and serves as Managing Editor of www.almostanauthor.com, included in Writer’s Digest’s 2018 Top 101 Best Websites for Writers.
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