Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hurtful Criticism

Thursdays - Devotions for Writers

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?
Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men,
I would not be a servant of Christ."
(Gal 1:10 NIV)

How do you handle criticism pertaining to your work?

I’m used to receiving constructive feedback from my critique group. I ask for it and I trust them to be honest. I also trust them to not be hurtful. My work has never been trashed by readers, but this past week I experienced criticism that was not only painful, it didn’t feel fair.

I work for a national telecommunications company in a departments that deals with customer accounts. I look at payments, numbers, and uninteresting stuff (to a creative person) all day. But when it became known that I write, I was asked to create a quarterly newsletter for the department of 90 people. This is an ongoing, out-of-the box kind of project. Four people stepped up to help me, offering their time and wonderful gifts.

The first issue recently came out and received rave reviews from managers, supervisors, and even a top executive. They loved the variety of business, fun, and personal topics. We were flying high.

Then we sent out a survey – to be answered anonymously by the department. Most comments were very positive, but constructive feedback was also given.

However, comments left by one person cut. They weren’t constructive, but felt mean and spiteful. A personal attack. “Poor editing.” The comment was left without explanation, as well as additional words slamming every aspect of the publication.

My assistant editor and I wracked our brains throughout the day wondering if we had an enemy in the department who wanted to make sure our egos were kept in check. Someone who was envious of the project? A coworker who was having a bad day and just needed to take it out on someone?

Or did this individual’s comments have merit?

I pulled myself back, remembering several multi-published and award-winning authors who had received scathing letters from readers who didn’t like their books.

Hmmmmmm . . . I guess I’m in good company.

And criticism is a part of the publishing business. I better get used to it.

But more than that . . . I need to remember that my job is to please God, not man.

I encourage you to keep that knowledge tucked away in you heart. Because if it hasn’t happened yet, it will. You’ll read hurtful comments that will make you question your ability to write anything. Even your grocery list.

God’s approval or man’s?

We all make that decision.



  1. You ask yourself: Is there any validity to this statement. If there is, hurtful or not, your job is to listen. If not, just toss it away. There are plenty of people who are too damaged to know that they are just spitting venom.

  2. Very helpful post, D. I remember some cutting contest critiques I received once which seemed more about the judge's beefs than about my project's merits. (Though other comments by the same judge did apply.) Sometimes, people are just looking for a means of jabbing someone else. Looks like you've kept a good perspective. I know for me, after reading the critical remarks, I found myself resistant to trust the applicable ones. Aiming to please God keeps us accountable, but also pours grace over all that "ick" tossed in your direction. Great point.

  3. it seems like you're just brushing your worry aside. I guess that's alright since even though you said that this person's comment "cut" it must not have been big enough to worry you all that much. A simple two word comment isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but what happens when you're exploited and personally attacked? How would you handle... say a web blog about how badly you write or some other sort of personal attack on you?

  4. Hi Okysho,

    In the case described above, there were more than a few words that were cutting. They did hurt. It was frustrating because due to being given anonomously, I couldn't ask this person to help me understand why they felt the way they did. I might have gained more insight.

    I didn't brush my feelings aside, but in this situation, all I could do was learn from it. And to remember, for me personally, that it's more important to focus on pleasing God by continuing to give my best, than to worry about one person's opinion.

    Sometimes you just have to consider the source. When I initially started blogging, I did receive negative comments on several blog posts about my writing from an individual. I checked him out and followed a trail of comments he'd left on other blogs. He was trashing other people, as well. I think he approached it as a fun game to see how many negative comments he could leave. Did I take what he said seriously? No.

    As for a personal attack - that's probably more difficult to let go of. I think it would depend on the content - and again the source.

    It sounds like you might be - or have - experienced such attacks? If so, how did you handle it? Or how are you hoping to handle it?


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