When a Friend Criticizes Your Writing

At the end of my senior year in college, a Facebook trend popped up called “The 60 Day Challenge.” It was a fun little game with 60 days of writing prompts, and every day you shared a photo and story about yourself based on the prompt.

I started doing the 60 Day Challenge along with a few friends. Notably, this was the first time I had ever shared my reflections & creative writing publicly.

And it was fun! Some days I wrote about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other days I wrote about how I pull out my eyelashes. Old and new friends bonded over my favorite movie (The Emperor’s New Groove), my “soulmate” (Angelina Jolie), and my nighttime ritual (forgiving myself and everyone as I drifted off to sleep).

One day, a friend from my college classes left this comment on one of my photo essays:

“I’m blocking you from my feed until this 60-day nonsense is over. Please message me when you’re done so I can unblock you.” (With a heart emoji tacked on at the end, naturally.)

It has been 7 years since I did the 60 Day Challenge. When it popped back into my mind the other day, the entire memory was intertwined with the stench of my friend’s comment. His words stuck with me.

I don’t want to focus on how his comment was rude/unnecessary/fill-in-the-blank-with-your-preferred-adjective. That isn’t helpful to any of us. I want to focus on how we can use these crunchy experiences to become stronger humans and more confident writers.

The Lessons of Criticism

It’s easy to fall into codependent behaviors online. It’s easy to perpetuate the pattern of:

I am not okay unless you change your behavior to suit me. It is your job to change so that I can be okay.

You need to change how you show up, what you say, what words you use, how you dress, how often you talk about politics, and how often you post in order for me to be okay.

But if you let that walking-on-internet-eggshells mentality soak into your creative work, or if you stop yourself from creating anything truly heartfelt in anticipation of these comments… it will mess with your writing voice for years to come.  

Criticism churns up our emotions, and energetically we can alchemize these feelings into lessons and growth that propel us forward.

Here are 3 questions to ask the next time a friend criticizes your writing:

dealing with criticism

Who is the criticism coming from?

Consider the source of the criticism for a moment, and reflect on these two questions:

  1. Does that person have the life and writing career that you want?
  2. Is that person truly your target audience?

99% of the time, the answer to both of these questions is no.

Most of your criticism will not come from other writers. Your public shaming won’t come from people who are leading with their souls, sharing their gifts, and chasing their dream to make an income as an artist.

Your criticism will come from people who don’t make art. Who don’t open their hearts up to be criticized. Who hang out in other people’s comment sections instead of creating their own masterpieces worth commenting on.

Brene Brown says, “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” I suggest adopting this as your personal mantra when interacting with people online.

When it comes to your target audience, it’s romantic to think that our writing is for everyone: that the friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances we’ve collected along the way will automatically like our writing.

But your creative work may simply not be their cup of tea.

Maybe you write contemporary romance novels, and they only pick up a book if it’s fantasy. Maybe you write self-help, and they think the whole self-help industry is a money-grifting scam. Maybe your family members don’t appreciate you telling the truth about your sex life in your memoir.

When you water down your writing to impress ex-coworkers, former math teachers, college classmates, and people who “get” you on one level but not a creative level… you dilute its magic.

Accept that people can still love you even if they don’t love your writing. Instead of taking it personally, face this truth with grace so you can focus on delighting the soulmate readers who will fall in love with your writing. They’re out there. You just have to find them.

What trigger is it poking for you?

At the time of the 60 Day Challenge, I was in a creative conundrum. I had always harbored dreams of being a writer, and the 60 Day Challenge was my way of dipping my toes into the water to see if anyone liked my writing.

My friend’s comment arrived at the perfect time to trigger deep-seated fears that were already brewing inside of me. These were my fears, not his.

The fear that I was too much. The fear that I was oversharing, that I was conceited, that I was writing “nonsense” worthy of public ridicule.

The fear that I would do something Bad and Wrong and break the rules of how normal people use social media. The fear that I was going to have to choose between writing publicly and being abandoned by my peers.

Having our own triggers revealed to us is a gift. Unsolicited criticism, even the wildly inaccurate kind, is an efficient way to reveal these fears so we can process and work through them on our own terms.

friend criticizes your writing

How can you grow from this?

Consider that everything that happens in your writing career is happening for you. You can glean wisdom, stories, and opportunities from every curveball. You can choose to look back at these memories with a bitter heart, or you can see your experiences for the initiations and gifts that they are.

When I look back at my friend’s 60 Day Challenge criticism, here is how I see it now:

Isn’t it amazing that I got to experience the highs and lows of sharing my work in the private sandbox of my facebook profile?

Wasn’t it helpful that I learned about concepts like “That person is not my target market” early in my writing career?

Isn’t it incredible that I can lead my writing coaching clients as they navigate similar situations?

Isn’t it a joy to teach from the bones of my own life experience rather than from a fluffy theory?

You can find the golden lessons that arise in your most mundane moments. You can twist your memory of the past to focus on the good. You can fall to your knees in gratitude for the person you became in the aftermath.

Bouncing Back

For the sake of writing this blog post, I went back to my 60 Day Challenge photos to make sure I got the details right… and I discovered some forgotten elements to the story.

I had forgotten that my best friend had been following along with my Challenge and leaving comments too. She went to school in a different state and genuinely enjoyed reading my stories, so whenever I skipped a day she took notice and sent me a positive reminder to keep going. She encouraged me to get back on track and cheered me on from afar.

In addition to her support, I received dozens of other positive comments during that time — all of which I had forgotten about. I was surrounded with more love than criticism all along, and you are too. It’s just a matter of which we choose to focus on.

Peace + Creative Transformation,

Kelsey


PS I help heart-centered creative humans process criticism and emerge triumphantly on the other side through my writing coaching and life coaching programs.

I have 3 private coaching spots available for June 2019, so if this calls to your heart, reach out to me and let’s chat about what program would be right for you!

kelsey horton

3 thoughts on “When a Friend Criticizes Your Writing”

  1. This is great. I recently received really harsh feedback on my MS from a fellow writer who is not putting her work “out there” and never has, I admit that made it a hard pill to swallow.

  2. Wow, someday I hope to truly grow up, & be as open-minded & open to growth as you, Kelsey! I admit, even at my advanced age, I still feel the sting of criticism waaay too personally. Great insight into a sensitive topic.

    1. Thank you so much for your insights here! It’s truly a one-day-at-a-time thing — every time you practice breathing through the criticism is a win. One day you will look back and say “Hey wait — I’ve actually gotten better at handling those weird comments!”

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