Dealing with unhelpful criticism


#1

I’ve always been pretty good at taking criticism on my work. I’ve been writing stories since I was a little kid, and by the time I took my first creative writing class I was confused by how sensitive people got when you told them what was wrong with their early drafts - you can always edit it, and pointing out flaws is not the same as hating an idea.

I still lean towards appreciating direct critiques. If some section is boring, unpleasant, badly put together, I want to know what to focus on. But how do you handle it when someone tells you something that beats down your whole concept or project?

I take it too personally when someone says offhand, “Your game is not for me.” But the worse comments? I store them up. Even if they’re ridiculous, like saying that I shouldn’t work in second person because shifting tenses is more avant-garde and literary. The people who say I’m too slow. Or not linear enough. Or that my ideas aren’t interesting. Or one that haunts me in its bizarreness: “You are no Mark Twain.”

How do you handle letting it go?

p.s.: I should probably mention that the vast majority of people have been helpful, supportive, and kind. This community is fantastic, and it’s not even about the people who have said these isolated things. The problem is in how I remember and value these comments, and why the negatives bother me more than they should.


#2

Most people say things that others interpreted differently than they meant sometimes. Some of them might be like that.

As for the others… “you are no mark twain.” So what? Not everyone is going to agree with you. Get on a bus, chances are at least 30% of the people would get into a screaming argument with me about politics or religion if I tried to talk about it.

Thinking about that is a waste of effort. What I do is calmly consider these sharp, personal criticisms, decide whether they’re valid. If they’re not, I forget them. If they are, I think about how I should improve. (They are very rarely valid).

I’m no edgar allen poe. I don’t let that stop me from writing. Nor am I saying you should block out such criticisms entirely: They can be helpful. Even truly, truly terrible writers are better off practicing and improving than getting self-conscious and quitting entirely.

It may not sound helpful, but let the worries wash over you, changing without destroying, then just keep on keeping on.


#3

I think the key point about dealing with criticism is just remembering that whatever they say and think about your work is just their opinion. Just that.

It doesn’t matter that you’re “no Mark Twain”. I’m not da Vinci. If we are all da Vinci, then isn’t da Vinci just another name for Bob Smith?

In your case, it’s quite important to remember that with every one upset person, there are at least dozens more people who are really pleased to see your work! Focusing on one or two off-color comments is the equivalent of shedding a tear over occasional dead blades of grass when you have an entire meadow in front of you.

EDIT: changed “argument” to “criticism”. I somehow managed to type an entirely different word from what I intended to.


#4

Heh, I get about the same amount of negative comments as I do positive ones, but I tend to just ignore them most of the time. Sometimes I’ll actually laugh if they’re amusing enough. Nothing funnier than an irrational rant going on about how you’re the worst person in the world.

Negative comments are going to happen, you just embrace it. Getting upset or excessively mad just causes unnecessary inner turmoil for yourself.

True there are going to be times where you’re having a bad day and you probably don’t want to see some idiot insulting you, but like I said, just try to focus on the positive comments you do get, don’t lose confidence in your writing and keep to your vision.


#5

There’s that classic Bob Dylan moment right after he went electric where someone shouts, “Judas!” at him on stage and he pauses to shout back, “I don’t believe you,” before resuming the show.

Practice disbelief. Not, as you say, when it comes to a critique of any given bit of your work; but when a critique seems to devalue the whole work on a fundamental level, enlist the spirit of Dylan and the memory of the many people who enjoy your work to say, “I don’t believe you.”

I bet part of Dylan did believe it, which is why he chose that slightly odd wording. But our beliefs are affected by what we say; as the churches have long known, saying any Credo is both compatible with doubt and a reinforcement to the belief it expresses. “Lord, I believe… Help thou my unbelief!”

So give yourself a Credo. Remind yourself of what you believe makes your work worth pursuing, and why; and repeat it when you’re in danger of taking a sweeping critic too much to heart.


#6

When I said that a few days ago in different wording, I meant I’m not the target demographic, as in it seemed geared towards a female audience, that’s all, then again, you could be talking about a completely different case. Anyways, sometimes people do dislike the game, it’s no possible to please every single person. It’s like TV, yeah there’s a bunch of different shows, but not everyone watches the same ones. The problem comes up when someone who would enjoy the game’s idea but didn’t think it was up to par says something, because then, odds are it could be improved, but at least coming from that group it’s more constructive than hateful. Each individual will have topics that sets them off anger wise, and when a game has those topics, they get …heated, sometimes.


#7

I think you should calm down a bit and give yourself and your writing space to breathe and grow. Writing well isn’t necessarily about writing perfectly. A lot of beautiful writing is beautiful because it is messy and odd (mind you, I’m not saying your writing is messy. I haven’t read enough of it to know).

Consider criticism and compliments for what they are, give them the appropriate weight and then move on. Just write. I used to get very very stuck up on what other’s said, but I have found that this actually stifled me. Feedback is important, but it is equally important to be able to move on from it and not get stuck up on it. I actually write better and more frequently since I started just letting certain things go. For one, screw trying to write perfectly, as it doesn’t exist and my best writing comes about during the editing process.

It’s actually hard to describe the way I got over getting stuck on certain criticism, which is what I think might be happening to you. The best way I can summarize it is this: let go and just let your writing be. I used to get very anxious about my writing. I hated that it was never “great,” but now I realize it’s not about being great. It’s about simply writing and being content with the process of writing. I’ve burnt myself out by getting overly caught up on certain criticism.

I actually dropped a WIP I created a year or so ago that a lot of people enjoyed, and I still occasionally hear of people being sad it was dropped. I had a lot of reasons for dropping it, namely its poor coding and time constraints, but one of the reasons was similar to this. I tended to overlook all of the compliments and get a bit too fixated on people who said the WIP wasn’t as good as some other WIP and such. And, I mean, rationally that’s just their preference, but because I fixated on it the minor criticisms seemed so much bigger than they actually were. It’s ridiculous, and I’ve gotten a lot better about not undermining myself that way. The worst thing you can do as a writer is focus too much on what other people write.

Sorry to go on about myself. This just sounds so similar to things I struggled with.


#8

I think it helps to be clear with precisely what sort of feedback you are, and are not, looking for.

I think it’s perfectly valid, for instance, to say that you’re not looking for any sort of criticism, that you just want encouragement, or that you only want feedback in certain areas.

I think you can easily stick, in your first post, a huge disclaimer saying “if this isn’t your sort of game then just move on, no need to tell me about it.” Because really, that’s not constructive feedback, it’s not helpful.

I will sometimes provide feedback on games that are outside my own areas of interest. I do generally tell the author that, but it’s mostly to warn them to feel free to discard everything that I’m saying because I am biased, and I’m not their target audience. I do think it’s rude to just post on a thread saying nothing but “I’m not interested in this game” (or words to that effect). It helps no one.

A sense of humour can help a lot, the ability to laugh the comments off, or to pull them into the ridiculously absurd.

I think it’s part of human nature to focus on the negatives though, to remember them clearer than the positives. You could try saving some of the nicest comments you’ve received and go read them over.

It’s understandable to be upset when you put so much time and effort into writing. Writing can be such a deeply personal thing.


#9

Remember that you’re not writing for the haters. You’re writing for the people who like your writing.

The haters don’t matter to you. They are irrelevant. They do not exist.


#10

I have no problem with critics, I haven’t gotten into the major story yet, but the bugs here and there are still the most annoying part for me.


#11

(Okay so first off I’m gonna throw a disclaimer out here. I’m no writer and probably don’t have very similar experiences to most of you other authors, However, I still get critique for things, usually jokes i say or sometimes (rarely) from sketches/artwork I’ve drawn so i thought throw in some advice from my experiences here.)

Well mainly if a critic has constructive advice/critique I always keep close attention to those words in my next whatever it is I’m doing, that always seems like an important and well-known thing to do, and I’m sure you already do this, However if its just a plain out insult/random critique, then I like to do 2 things here

1st- Remember that one of humanity’s biggest traits is our diversity, especially in opinions and ideals, so every now and then if theres an insult I would say “Congrats thats an opinion!”

2nd- Just like @FairyGodfeather said

I even remember reading an article about this somewhere (however I’m not quite sure whether its fact or opinion, but still) I mean every now and then I’ll have a moment where I remember several stupid things I did when i was younger, and regret it to the point where I’m mid-facepalm before I even realize it, I’d imagine that that is remembering alot more negative than positive. So what I try to do in a case like this where I start questioning my works is remember that I’ve probably made more positive things than negative things in life (or think of something that you are very proud of making).

Well thats all I got for now, hope it helps :sweat_smile:


#12

that’s such a useless term. You’re writing for the target audience, not every member of that audiencee is going to enjoy it.


#13

Well not everyone will be pleased at something. Someone will always have something weird and unhelpful remarks to say. I usually ignore the criticism if it’s not really helpful criticism. I actually think some of the unhelpful criticism funny which I personally enjoy and I’ll be thinking “wow, I made this person care to actually write something irrelevant.”

Don’t take it too personally because if the criticism is not really helpful then ignore it and laugh it away. There was a WIP game here that is already closed, I forgot which game I’ve seen it, but someone commented that they don’t like the game and something else along the lines of the game being something un-interesting. The author of the game responded with “Good for you, cheers.” I actually laughed at the response of the author.


#14

The last thing you should do is give them too much respect! To the twats who spout off unhelpful comments from witless one-liners to impassioned essays, I urge you to put them into perspective. Time will do it for you—once you create more and more content the time this process takes will shrink tremendously. Eventually you’ll take it personally for as long as it takes for you to blink an eye, and you’ll carry on your day.

And as a result you’ll become mentally stronger and tougher, and mature in ways non-creators never will. If you face particularly biting remarks, it’s important to consider just how young the audience is here. Emotionally and socially underdeveloped, hypersensitive and thin-skinned, far better at giving criticism than receiving it…I think I’ve just described 95% of the internet.

Unfortunately the worst of the unhelpful critics stem their harshness from deeply rooted fears and insecurities. Producing things is scary, risky and (gasp) might not turn out perfect. Nobody can make fun of what you create if you don’t make anything, after all. There’s a lot of self-hatred out there from people having created nothing. Take some solace in knowing that you’ve grown out of that!


#15

Dealing with Unhelpful Criticism

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The End


#16

I am not sure there is anything to add to the last post but here we go…

I’ve written for about five years now, and have had a lot of criticism since then. I guess perhaps I have been lucky that there have not been that many asshats, but there have been a few that has been a bit of a gut punch, especially at the start. My reaction depends on the type of criticism.

  1. Not the intended audience: Sometimes there are criticism dealing with such deeply ingrained facets of what I am writing, that it is obvious that they are not part of the audience I am writing for. That is sad, but I can’t please them all.

2: Nitpickers: Sometimes people react hugely to minor thing, or have certain ticks that just triggers them. Or maybe they want to show that they really read and understood a piece by attacking tiny details of it. The grammar nazis are a subset of these, and in nearly finished story they can be super useful as proofreaders, but sometimes I just don’t agree with them. I tend to play hard and fast with grammar and language when I want to make certain impressions (got a poetry background), and some people just can’t stand that. Which I understand. Once I had a long running argument/discussion about the singular they when writing an sf story about beings that had no gender, and well… augh. This is the criticism I hate the most, but which I also know is very useful for me so I try to be polite and not dwell.

3: “I would have done it differently”: Often other writers/would be writers, they are the backseat drivers who often like part of what you did, but would have done it differently. Sometimes you can get some good ideas there, but if you listen too much, it might end up not being your story at all in the end.

4: “This is great, but MORE/less of…”: I get this especially when I write horror. People want more/less gore. More/less talking. More/less action. More/less everyday life. This is a good criticism if they are part of your intended audience. If you want to be published in Goremondobizarre then you probably should add more blood, but if you re going for a spooky piece for a women’s magazine, probably a lot less. As long as you are aware what you are writing and for who, this is great criticism even if you don’t agree with it, because it can make sure you are o the right track.

5: “Wow, this/you sucks”: Sometimes people get off on hating on others. I think artists have it worse there, since fewer of them can be arsed to actually read through a long piece of text to tell someone that they are a talentless hack. If they just say something is bad, ignore them. If they say they didn’t like it, too bad for them. If they can’t even be bothered articulating why they don’t like it, then I can’t be bothered listening to them.

6: The helpful critic that is right: This is the hardest part, because sometimes the criticism might be entirely right and legit, but you can’t change anything for reasons. Maybe it is already in print, and you just have to keep this in mind for the future. Maybe the thing they pointed out is a giant plothole in the story, but it is already almost done and you have a deadline and if you fixed the plothole then you wouldn’t even have a story. Maybe they want other choices in the game, but to put them in would mean the game getting too big. They really are helpful, but things they do not know make their advice unhelpful and this is really tough. At least for me, I have a really hard time disregarding what they say, since I know they are right. I have literally scrapped two finished books because of this. And that HURT, but I couldn’t put out a product with such huge flaws in it.


#17

The fact that someone is taking time to criticize your work means that it’s good enough to merit their time and effort into writing a response. As long as they’re talking about your work, whether it’s praise or criticism, you’ve already won.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as “unhelpful” criticism. There’s clear, direct criticism that’s very clear about what they think could be improved on, and that’s what most people would consider “constructive criticism”. Then there’s the criticism that you consider “unhelpful”; comments that just seem cruel and designed to poke holes in your ego.

But even those comments took time and effort to produce. The fact that someone, somewhere, considered it worth their time and effort to produce a hateful spiel probably says something about your work, even if the spiel itself is not very helpful at improving your work.

So, in short: Don’t take those “unhelpful” comments literally and seriously; but take time to consider why your work would induce such hatred in another human being, so much so that, instead of throwing up their hands in disgust and moving on, they felt a need to vent their rage at you. Even if the rage itself cannot help you, the fact that such rage was conjured up at all should be helpful in and of itself.

And if it sometimes seems that the criticisms are too harsh, too cruel, too witty or whatever, just remember: Your work was good enough to induce emotions (whether positive or negative) in other human beings. Think of it as a compliment.


#18

Coming at it from another way, I really do wish people would adopt more of a “three stars :stars: and a wish” type of critique when posting comments about an author’s game, because yes it is true that human nature compels those being critiqued to focus on the negatives.

I’ve yet to see any game on this site which renders positive commentary impossible. So if you’re going to toss out a few criticisms about a game on a WiP thread or elsewhere, why not also mix in some compliments? It makes your post less antagonistic to the author, and you gain credibility by not being viewed as a troll /rabble rouser / nitpicker.

So a post might look like…

“Hey I enjoyed the ____________ and the way you wrote _________________. Also, _________________ was pretty cool. I did start to think though, would it maybe be even more exciting if the reader had the option to do _________________ instead of the current choices? That would make for a really tough decision! Anyways, keep up the good work!”

What’s so hard about that? There is a reason that educators are taught these sorts of assessment skills. They understand how human beings (children and adults alike) process feedback from their peers and teachers.


#19

I wrote the following about a year ago and I think it’s relevant
Reviews.

As an author one of the scariest things you will have to deal with are the reviews. It is already daunting enough to put in the time, effort and love required to craft a story. A story can take years to write yet it can only take one bad review (most written in less than 5-10 minutes) to make you doubt yourself.
Every writer wants everyone who reads their stories to fall completely in love with their world. However, it doesn’t matter how interesting, well written or exciting your story is, you WILL at some point get a review that is negative.
I’ve been writing for over 20 years now and have seen my fair share of reviews over the years. Some were from forums a few were even from reviewers I have sent my stuff to. Take my latest work Unnatural for example; it has received a lot of five and four star reviews but also has received the odd three, two and even one star reviews.
I think the key to dealing with reviews is to realising that reviews don’t just fall into good or bad but actually there is a third type. You also need to accept you cannot and will not please everybody. Below I’ll explain in a bit more detail each of the types of review with an example so you can see what I mean.
Firstly there is the Good Review, these are the ones of course you want to receive. They tend to praise you and generally make you feel happy. An example would be something like this…
This game was awesome, the story drew me in from start to finish. I loved it.
Secondly there is the Bad review, these are the ones you don’t want to receive. Also don’t get me wrong I don’t include critiques in this group because in my experience there is no such thing as a “Bad Review” only “Bad Reviewers”. While not everyone will like your work, for the time and effort put into writing we can at least try and point out WHY we think a work isn’t very good. A proper bad review will make you doubt yourself telling you how bad a story is without even attempting to say why. An example would be something like this…
I think this game really sucks. Don’t buy it!
Finally we have the Critique, while a few authors will consider these types of review as bad ones, they are really there to help you. Don’t treat this as the reviewer disliking your work, but more they like it enough to take the time and effort to help you. These can point out the flaws, parts they disliked but they also tend to say why, some even go as far as giving suggestions on how they think you can fix it. An example would be…
While the story was interesting the lack of meaningful choices let it down. The characters were cool but a few more scenes where we learn about their backgrounds would make them even better.

Overall writing is about having fun and enjoying yourself. Reviews are part of the experience so enjoy the good reviews, ignore the bad and always consider the critiques. It is through feedback that our writing, our worlds and our characters define themselves.

Thank you for reading.


#20

I’m glad I posted this question. All of the responses are helping me put things back in perspective, thanks.

To add one more comment about this -

ME: "My mother has informed me that I am no Mark Twain."
MY FRIEND: “I think you’ll find that even Mark Twain wasn’t Mark Twain.”