Resilience: How To Deal With Criticism And Rejection With Mark McGuinness

Criticism and rejection are part of life, but perhaps particularly part of a writer’s life.

resilience mark mcguinnessIn the video below, I chat with Mark McGuinness about how the importance of the right types of criticism, as well as how we can build resilience as writers in order to deal with the more difficult side of the inevitable. There’s also a downloadable audio and text overview below.

Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach, blogger, speaker and entrepreneur. His latest book is called ‘Resilience. Facing down rejection and criticism on the road to success.

  • Mark was a psychotherapist and then moved into coaching with creative professionals. Over the years, the same issues have come up time and time again, and rejection and criticism are two of the major themes.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity

  • It’s not a quality that you have or don’t have, it is an ability that you can build and improve on over time. It is hard to succeed as a creative without facing these issues.
  • The importance of criticism for writers, from editors and beta readers, which helps us improve your work. The first time, it hurts but it gets easier with each book. If you have great criticism early, you will lessen your chances of rejection later. The criticism has to be high quality though, and from the right people.
  • What is rejection in the indie world? In the traditional publishing world, it was agents and publishers rejecting you, but as a self-published author, you will experience rejection and criticism via the customer reviews, one star Amazon reviews, the social media world, blogs, or just not selling anything which is a kind of rejection in itself.
  • Fear of judgement is a common fear. Creative people identify with the work we do, so we feel rejection of the work is rejection of us as people. Flaubert ‘we serve up a portion of our gut and the critics get the knives out’. Depending on the content, you may have also bared your soul, and it does reveal something about you. It has to hurt a bit, otherwise you don’t really care about the work. Often, the fear of the thing itself is worse than the actual reality.

On building resilience

  • How to deal with the criticism. Don’t turn it over and over in your mind. Don’t focus on it or give it more energy. Try using mindfulness as a technique. Be aware of what you are feeling, observe your thinking, watch your mind in action. Focus on the moment and not the feelings and thoughts that are escalating in your brain. Stop the mental tapes running. Getting to know yourself and being mindful is probably the most important way to start, as you can catch yourself before you spiral into despair!
  • A community is so important for building resilience as it is supportive and there’s a sense of exploring together. The writer’s community here on the blog and also on twitter etc is so valuable. Don’t go it alone. Join a group of people who are going through the same issues. I don’t think I could have written even one novel without the encouragement of the community. [I also recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors, which has a fantastic Facebook group where we share issues and learnings.]
  • Comparing ourselves to others is totally normal but it needs to be framed properly. It can be motivating and encouraging or it can be disheartening. A regular writing practice means you can bounce back from the daily ups and downs, because you are aware of how it all feels.
  • On taking risks as a writer. The fear of judgement will hold us back but we have to risk something in order to write the work. Consider what you need to censor and what you can let out into the world. You’re never going to please everyone, so be aware that if you put your work into the world, there will be some criticism.

On taking criticism and critique groups

  • How do you know when criticism is valid or not? There are some times when you need to take the comments as valid and other times when you need to ignore it. A good critic knows what they are talking about but also knows the limits of what they talk about. They give examples and they judge it by the right criteria. A good critic is also respectful. A bad critic doesn’t have self-awareness around judgment, they don’t give examples and they judge it by incorrect criteria. So be careful whose opinion you listen to.

You can find out more about Resilience here, or buy it on Amazon.

How do you deal with criticism and rejection? Please do leave a comment below.

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  1. says

    Thanks for the blog about criticism. I feel better reading this. My brother, after reading my finished first novel, decided he was a critic. Only one comment was worthy of paying attention to and he had good reason in finding fault. Two other points ( and yes, he put them in point form) were just his opinion and the points were not valid at all.
    Your statement, “There are some times when you need to take the comments as valid and other times when you need to ignore it. ” is extremely true in my case.

  2. says

    Definitely a timeless article. As long as there are writers there will always be critics. Another important thing to keep in mind, I think, is the phrase “haters gonna hate.” 😉 Some people are so filled with anger and resentment that it shows in *everything* they do. Their criticism has less to do with the object of the critique than their own insecurity.

  3. says

    Resilience is “not a quality that you have or don’t have, it is an ability that you can build and improve on over time”…

    LOVE this thought! It is empowering. We don’t have to be born resilient. Thank you! I feel encouraged.

    Having written for a living for years, I’m relaxed about being edited, but there are still some critiques that smart a bit — usually when the writing is closer to my heart. I’ve discovered that if I just allow myself a “Henny Penny the sky is falling” hour or two, later I can look at it like a grown-up and get something valuable from the feedback (or see it for what it is, if it’s based on incorrect criteria).

    • says

      Yes, great idea to allow yourself a little ‘sky is falling’ time! Much better than pretending it doesn’t feel like that.

      In the book, I give the example of the football coach Martin O’Neill who gives his team 48 hours after a game to either feel terrible about losing or great about winning.

      After that, it’s back to training.

  4. says

    This post is so relevant to my life right now. I just received the final copy of my story from my editor and publication is right around the corner. What started out as excitement turned into a huge pound of nerves about putting it “out there”.

    I feel a lot better about taking criticism after watching this video. Thanks Joanna and Mark.

  5. says

    Great post – great suggestions by Mark McGuinness. Hardest part of criticism is knowing which part to take in and believe, and which part to discard and realize it’s not about you, but about the one who cricizes.

    • says

      Yes, sharpening your own critical thinking skills will help to make that vital distinction. And sometimes, as Belinda points out, it’s a good idea to put a little distance between your first reaction to the criticism and a more considered response. :-)

  6. says

    Thank you for the wonderful article. No matter how far you are in your writing career, or what type of writing you make your career in, I find that the criticism is a harsh slap. As you said, it is important to remember to take the ‘good’ criticism and learn from it, while ignoring the bad. And when life gets hard and the critics pounce, just remember that even the most prolific and well-known authors have had their share of harsh criticism.

  7. says

    This article was extremely helpful, not only to self-publishing indie authors who may face criticism, but to people like me who are their own critic. I probably beat myself up ten times more than any critic does. It’s very important not to let yourself do that. Some self-awareness is helpful, but never go so far as to call yourself terrible things such as a “failure” or a “loser,” because of bad reviews of bad opinions, or if no one is interested in you or your work. Don’t destroy yourself before you become someone, as hard as that sounds.

    And yes, as was said earlier, don’t give in to people who have nothing but really angry things to say. After you spend a lot of time on the internet, you get to understand the difference between a hateful, angry person and someone with constructive criticism. Constructive critique is always welcome in my book (no pun intended), but once someone starts typing in all caps, or saying words like “sucks” or using lots of exclamation points, they become extremely easy to ignore, and you can focus on critics who actually aim to help you, not release rage and clog up reviewing systems.

    Sometimes, it’s hard to forget that people are trying to help, but I try my best to remember that a lot of people who critique your work are looking for something good for their money. They want to be able to trust you to give them a good story for a good price. Even if they criticize you, it’s important to continue loving and respecting them. They’ll probably give you another chance :)

    • says

      “once someone starts typing in all caps,”

      I can’t believe I left that out of the book!

      And good point in your final para – when you find the right audience, they WANT you to succeed, and provide them with something great. (The same applies to public speaking.)

  8. says

    Oh, and one other point I’d like to make: People are more likely to speak out when they dislike something than they are if they actually like it. You’ll find that positive comments are much more rare than negative ones because, I’ve found, that people would rather complain than be nice, which is why it’s common to see other people “agreeing” with the bad review. These make it harder to ignore because a bad review may be the only one you have, and it hurts sales. Try not to dwell on it too much and keep on writing and improving yourself.

    • says

      “People are more likely to speak out when they dislike something than they are if they actually like it. ”

      And as I say in the book, we have also evolved to be more sensitive to criticism and praise.

      Put them together and it’s a recipe for misery. :-)

      Unless we spot what’s happening and take evasive action, of course.

  9. says

    Wish I’d had this article to read 15 years ago. Would have saved me a lot of angst. Experience has, instead, been a hard teacher and I’ve learned to deal with rejection & criticism that way and just get a little hurt, because I do care about what I write.

  10. Sandeep says

    Just a new beginner in pursuing a long cherished goal of being academic writer, today I received two consecutive powerful critiques about my writing abilities. It is when that I reached this blog and found that foremost is to save our self from falling into a despair spiral.

    Everything else can be turned around with resilience, which is again rightly mentioned as an ability, rather than a quality.

    Thanks for this nice blog as it helps to take care of bruised ego and offer a way forward.

  11. madeline webb says

    Addressing Joanna (sorry marc) I have a fear of showing my stories to people, because I’m that nice happy person who wouldn’t hurt someone, yet I want all my stories to be possible because it’s more engaging than magical unicorn dragons. Something that could happen with people. However this results in many gruesome stories. I’m super excited about this one I just started a day or two ago – I’ve got one chapter down, 3000 words. I changed the end of the chapter three times because I thought it was too graphic – – for others. The first end was the loan shark takes the guy into crowded waters far out and breaks his legs and leaves him to drown. The second ending he gets him to do a ‘magic trick’ and ties him up to a rock at the bottom — like escaping the box of water. The one it’s currently at just leaves it to the imagination. All you know was a) he had a long rope on him and b) he’s a loan shark and killed him for missing his second payment of $345. I don’t know what to do, but I love the way I played out the suspense – because the second sentence is “It was arguably the worst place to attempt a homicide.” Then, after three interesting viewpoints but long, descriptive paragraphs of how busy and hard to focus and noisy and crowded it was, it says, “It was arguably the best place to attempt a homicide.” This is a big explanation and I probably shouldn’t give it away so much. Anyways, if you’d like to hear more (fat chance) I can email you the first chapter. I’m only asking you because I saw in another post that you ’embrace your dark side in writing’ — AKA opening with the ritual of burying a nun alive.
    Cheers, hope to hear from you soon
    P.S Im canadian, I don’t know why I said cheers?

    • says

      I burned my nun alive on the ghats of Varanasi, India in PENTECOST :) but maybe I’ll bury one alive too! You should definitely carry on embracing the dark side and write what you want to. Cheers to you too!

  12. says

    The only feeling of rejection any purveyor of published creativity should have is of any criticism levelled against their work. Good, bad or indifferent, it is, almost always, absolutely of no value at all. Is what you create based on the need to simply do it – drive; to achieve a set target such as make money out of it – desire; or is it to have people laud you for your cleverness – deliverance? And therein lies the answer to the question of how to deal with criticism and rejection. When someone creates something, it has a value – to them. It should be beyond them to ignore all else that emanates from this unless they have done so professionally, in which case they deserve whatever comes their way. They are paid to do so and thick-skinned enough not be bothered, no matter the outcome.
    In recognising that people do get hurt by criticism and, in the modern world, it is all too easy to be hurtful to others, it is forgotten it is proving there’s more being said about the critic than the criticised. So, wake up to reality and wave it away for its worthlessness. Your work is your work – it’s value to anyone else should be ignored.


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