Navigation menu

Thursday, March 03, 2022

When Taking Criticism is Hard

Photo by elifskies from Pexels

It’s been kind of a rough week over here. I’ve made a few errors in a magazine I edit recently, and that realization has made me feel terrible. One was a pretty big whopper—I accidentally ran a wine column in our new issue that we ran in March 2020. I’m not sure what I’m more upset about—the fact that I mistakenly went into the wrong e-mail folder to retrieve the file or that it didn’t even resonate with me that I read or edited it before. The columnist was not happy when he figured it out, resulting in a terse e-mail to me that made my heart sink. A few hours later, another writer reached out to ask me why I had asked him to interview someone for his monthly column, asked me to clarify what angle I wanted him to take, and later sent me an e-mail right before I went bed basically telling me my assignment was not a good one and listing all the reasons why. I felt personally attacked, because I’m the only one responsible for planning content for our magazine. I'm also the only proofreader, which leaves a wide margin for error, in my opinion. For anyone that knows I struggle with insomnia, accidentally reading that e-mail before bed sent me into a spiral that kept me awake until 3 a.m., running scenarios over and over in my mind of how I could solve this problem. I’ve also been working on a podcast episode about a missing person in my state and am emotional after talking with his family and trying to find the right words to put in the script about his case. 

For someone who is on the edge of a creative burnout, these types of critical comments and conversations can be devastating. I tried to ask myself why two unhappy e-mails are outweighing the other positive comments I frequently receive about my work. I think creatives tend to be perfectionists and we take mistakes to heart, because we simply don’t like to make them or have our shortcomings pointed out. I found a blog post that discussed how creatives are much more likely to recall negative performances or criticisms that positive ones. Why is this, and why do these thought spirals lead to cognitive distortions? I feel like I’m not alone in this struggle. How often have we received rejections from an agent, editor, contest judge, or literary journal that made us feel as if our writing was not worthy and we should give up? I know I have. 

For today, I’m going to ask for some extra snuggles from my dogs, maybe treat myself to a coffee and a doughnut from a new restaurant that opened nearby, and get out and go for a walk in the almost 70 degree weather. I’ll take deep breaths and go through my “Atta Girl” folder, where I keep e-mails I’ve received over the years with positive comments and praise to remind myself that everyone has bad days, and we won’t always get it right. 

Do you find you take negative criticism to heart more than the accolades? Why do you think this is?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also hosts the true crime podcast Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more about her at


  1. Renee--We recently had a grandparents' project, where the kids made coupon books for their grandparents. I sent an email to all the other teachers a month before it took place, outlining what would happening. I ASSumed I'd be taking care of it--just like last year--in my language arts class, since it involved brain-storming and writing.

    However, when I delivered the sets of finished coupon books to the social studies teacher (the day before the coupon books were going to be sent home), she was EXTREMELY unhappy that she had not been able to do them with her class. My feelings were hurt. I cried (not in front of her). I vowed to not assume and not overstep again.

    It's almost impossible (I think) to catch every mistake every time when it's just one set of eyes. It sounds like you have a lot of responsibility heaped on just your shoulders. As you enjoy the outdoors... as you savor the coffee and doughnut... remember that in a month/a year, nobody will remember that mistake.

    What's the quote from the book The Help? "You is smart, you is kind, you is important." Remember that.

  2. Sioux--Thanks for your kind comments! From my perspective, in your case, it sounds like you tried to do everything right in letting the other teachers know about the project and there must have been some sort of miscommunication in another teacher thinking they'd have an opportunity to participate. Regardless, I know what probably hurt about the feedback was the way it was delivered--that's what usually strikes me the most. As I'm sitting here typing this I'm remembering another writer reached out to me yesterday letting me know how touched she was by my Editor's Letter this month. Have I responded to her yet? Nope. I sat around and sulked all day about the mean e-mail and the writer who is now ignoring my attempts to solve our interview problem. Gonna go respond to her now with a big, fat, "THANK YOU FOR YOUR KINDNESS."
    Big hugs to you!

  3. Ugh, oh gosh. I can so relate! Recently during my day job, I got called out for run-on sentences and wordiness on one occasion. I'm not sure why I hear this as, "You're a horrible writer and shouldn't bother writing anything else for the rest of your life." But I did!

    I have to remind myself all the time of the positives, and how yes, even an experienced writer can make mistakes.

    I know if I can remove myself in some way, it helps. Also, doing something that isn't attached to my writer identity but is creative helps. Even if it's my blog or something. Just something where I'm not expecting so much of myself. I encourage you to do the same!

    I'm so sorry you had this experience!

  4. Renee ~ It's not your fault. Every magazine should have a proofreader, and no one on the planet can meticulously edit their own work. And I'm talking about one article, not an ENTIRE magazine! I can't even imagine how much pressure is put on you every issue. You're basically running the magazine by yourself. Even with our small staff we have at least three sets of eyes on e-zine and newsletter content.

    I'm in charge of dealing with conflict and angry customers and providing resolutions, so I've learned to separate myself from the work and not take things personally. The angrier someone gets the more professional, apologetic, and creative I get to come up with a solution to make all parties happy. I used to stay up late at night thinking about these things, and it's the worst when you catch one of those emails right before going to bed, so I try not to look at my email at night. Email doesn't translate emotions too well, and we have to remember that most of the time the anger is coming from a place of hurt. I also don't see how you're in charge of all the complaints for the magazine. There's a lot on your shoulders, and I hope you do focus on those positive emails. Your editor's letters are helping more people than you know! Usually only less than 1% take the time to respond, so please know you are touching reader's hearts. I hope you take time to de-stress because stress is a killer for your health. 70 degrees sounds beautiful. We're finally seeing some 60 degree days after snow a couple weeks ago, and I'm looking forward to a mountain hike later today! :)

  5. Nicole--I'm sorry you experienced that critique on your writing, and again, I'm guessing it's all in the way it was delivered that made you feel so bad. That voice in our heads sure can switch up what we hear, can't it? I sat down last night and was doing some reading on my current manuscript. I came across a scene I almost forgot I wrote, and said out loud to myself, "Wow, that was pretty good!" That made me feel better.

    Ang--I don't know how you handle the angry customers all the time (hopefully you don't have to deal with it a lot!) I don't think my skin is that thick! I try not to look at e-mails right before bed but sometimes they slip through, ugh! But yes, part of my problem is that my eyeballs are tired. I can't be expected to come up with almost all of the content every month, edit each individual article, write the headlines and captions, and proofread the whole thing. It's too much. Do you know that I spent all night thinking up a solution for the writer who was unhappy with his assignment? Do you know that it's been more than 24 hours since I sent him the solution and offer to help and he hasn't responded? I think he's upset that in my first response to him, I said, "I try my best to find stories and people to interview that I think our readers would enjoy. But I'm in charge of doing almost all the planning, and things don't always work out the way I envision them. But I try my best." I'm at a point where I won't apologize for mistakes any overworked human would make, especially when I'm willing to offer a solution.

  6. Renee, so sorry you had to deal with this writer and/or criticism, whether deserved or not. Have to say, that sort of thing bothered me A LOT in my younger days but now...meh.

    Shortly after Mister Man died, I went to confession and the priest--before I said anything--asked, "Did you murder anyone?" (In a heavy Irish brogue) Well, I had not (thankfully), he said I was fine, and I laughed out loud. I thought if that's the bar, I'm probably never going to confession again. :-)

    The point is, I think of that moment whenever I'm feeling like I've let someone down or hurt someone, whether through negligence or thoughtlessness. Most of the time, I'm doing the best I can (just like you told that writer and basically, what the priest was saying to me).

    But mostly, now I have a little perspective; it's not like I murdered anyone. Still makes me laugh!


We love to hear from readers! Please leave a comment. :)