Stages of Taking Criticism and How to Deal By Erin E. Moulton

It’s my pleasure to jump on board EMU’s Debuts today to talk you through the process of reading a critical review of your work.  Whether it’s a random person in the blogosphere, a few low star reviews on goodreads, or a nice old roast by one of the acclaimed literary reviewers, never fear, this is a fail proof system that will teach you how to deal. All complete with the easy to remember acronym SRORRA.

1)    The first stage you’re going to experience is SHAME.  Especially in the well connected world of the internet, as soon as you see your name attached to a critical review, you might just feel your temperature rise.  Bad thoughts are going to start rushing through your mind, and you’ll hurry to the mirror to see if you have BAD REVIEW written across your forehead. Rest assured, you don’t. You don’t have to. In the age of the internet that reviews going to crop up whenever someone googles your name, so it’s about ten times worse than the Scarlet Letter situation.  It’s best to move straight on to stage 2 which is one of my favorites.

2)    RAGE: Once you’ve realized that there’s no hiding it, you get a little defensive, and let’s face it, possibly a little ticked off?  The best thing to do is to lower your adrenalin.  Here’s some healthy ways to do so: Drive really really fast into oncoming traffic, scream into a pillow, smash a few bottles in the road, go for a run, get all your guns and cut down that Oak tree you’ve been meaning to get to in the back yard, punch your hand through a wall a punching bag. These tips should help you decompress so you can move on to the next stage with a clear head.

3)    OBSESSION: The thing about the bad review is that it only has to be one.  One with just a few little remarks about “unbelievability” or “forced symbolism” to plant a seed that can grow into a birch tree. Don’t be surprised if you spend the next several hours googling your name, rehashing and analyzing reviews that were seemingly, at least the last time you read them, in favor of your book.  Don’t be surprised if you start seeing criticisms where there weren’t any before.  She said “one thing you’ll know when you get to the end(of Erin E. Moulton’s Debut Novel, Flutter) is that Maple is a miracle, too.” ONE THING?  ONE? Is that the only thing you’ll know?  Is the rest that unclear? 

Don’t worry. This is totally normal.  The best way to assuage this behavior is to go to the fridge and find the drink or snack with the highest calorie content, whether it’s a Guiness or a carton of buttermilk.  Take it to a dark room and stew for a while.  Your hubby or partner may pop in at this time, noticing you’re not quite right.  The best thing to do is tell them that you’re fine.  They’ll say, “you don’t look fine.” They’re so insensitive.  Don’t they understand that writing is a sedentary profession, and yeah maybe you’ve gained a few pounds but couldn’t they get off your back for a minute and just let you be? They don’t understand you at all right now, so just chuck the empty carton of buttermilk, resume fetal position, and pass out.

4)    Stage four is REACHING OUT: Once you wake up from a glorious slumber, you’ll be feeling more lively, ready to build up your own army support system.  You’ll call all your friends that know the right things to say. In case you don’t have friends that know the right things to say, I have created a handy list for this purpose. You can email this list to your friends then call.

a.     I didn’t find your story the least bit unbelievable, honey.

b.     Have I not taught you anything?  Please repeat after me. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. People are idiots.

c.     Everyone’s a critic

d.     These people don’t know what they’re god damned talking about!

e.     You’re a great writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

f.      Who said that?  You want me to get em?  You want me to smash out their headlights?

g.     People are idiots

h.     It’s just one opinion, darling.

i.      You gonna cry about it? Are you?  You’re gonna cry about it.

j.      Dude, it’s just like in Pirates of the Caribbean. Remember? The guy in town says, “Captain Jack Sparrow?  I heard you were the worst pirate that ever lived.” And Johnny Depp says, “Ah, but you have heard of me.”

5)    Stage five is RALLYING: Buoyed by your friends and family’s enthusiasm (and the Pirates of the Caribbean), you’re going to give yourself the biggest and best pep talk you’ve ever gotten. For this purpose you’ll need a variety of costuming or make-up options.  Because, let’s face it, you’re a writer and you’re a little bit dramatic. You could go all Braveheart with the blue war paint, or you could go with a button up and tie like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, yelling “carpe diem” into the bathroom mirror, or, my personal favorite: pop on a leather jacket, give yourself a little shiner, let one side of your face go slack (if you can) and repeat after me:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s a Rocky Balboa quote.  Be sure to get the hand gestures right for emphasis. And even though you’re a writer, I stress, do not to fix the grammatical errors.  It kills it.

6)    The final stage is ACCEPTANCE.  As you’re looking in the mirror wondering what the hell that gym locker smell is, well, it’s not because your inspirational speech was so good it brought Rocky to life.  The smell is you.  The pity party is over.  Dust yourself off, go take a shower, and keep on writing, because, “It ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit (in the soul), and keep moving forward.”  Hey, you can load your face up with Vasoline so the punches slide off easier.  Whatever gets you back at that computer. Sure, the neighbors might talk, but they probably do anyway, so what the hell?

Erin E. Moulton is the debut author of FLUTTER: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey (Philomel/Penguin), due out on May 12th!  Her second novel Lanternlight Dreamers  is due out in 2012.

When she isn’t writing, Erin works as the Northeast Area Director of Springboard After School. You can visit her on the web at or on facebook as Erin E. Moulton (Author)

Special offer from EMU’s Debuts: Reply to this and enter a drawing for a free, signed copy of FLUTTER!


Filed under Editing and Revising, Guest Posts, rejection and success, Reviews

29 responses to “Stages of Taking Criticism and How to Deal By Erin E. Moulton

  1. Thanks, Erin! I feel ready for anything now!


  2. Erin E. Moulton

    It’s my pleasure, Jeannie! And thanks for inviting me over :).


  3. Love this! The lighter side of dark wisdom. 🙂 Thanks.


  4. Thanks, Erin! I especially like the way you amended the Rocky quote at the end. Reviews, critiques…they can all feel like hits to the soul. One of the quotes that’s helped me on the journey is by Joan Baez–“Action is the antidote to despair.” I don’t always remember it when I’m having a good wallow, but eventually, I come back to just writing more.


  5. The tongue-in-cheek advice made me laugh, brightening a gloomy day. It’s always good to know we’re not alone in our feelings. Love the Captain Jack Sparrow quote–didn’t some famous person say, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity?”


  6. Wow, Erin, I feel totally prepared! And can I add you to my list? Thanks for being our guest blogger!


  7. You forgot the voodoo doll part, but whatever. 🙂 Great post!


  8. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    What a combination–informative and funny! I’m ready for any reviews now! Anything! I think…

    Thanks so much for the post, Erin. It’s a great read!


  9. Sounds like every day at our house. 🙂

    Seriously though, a great post. Thanks.


  10. Dawn

    Loved the humorous hard-truths! Thanks for being a bright spot in my day.


  11. Heather Slayton

    You are your mother’s daughter, kid!


  12. Love this, Erin!!
    Now I’m going to go try it out on a certain five-year old Goodreads review…


  13. Jeanne Ryan

    Haha! Totally revisiting this post when my book comes out!


  14. Sheila Manchester Coniff

    Great advice kiddo…though I think letters (b) and (g0 are direct quotes from a certain maid of honor we both know….of course you can’t go wrong when quoting a munchkin….and you’ll not have to deal with your own advice cause no one would EVER write a snarky review about you!


  15. Erin E. Moulton

    Thank you all for reading 🙂 I am so glad it gave you a giggle! It was definitely fun to write. I think it could be used after workshop or critique as well depending on your sensitivity level. Keep on smiling!


  16. Awesome, Er, this is really good stuff! PS-I have your book on order for the library, and I will be slipping it to MFA & BFA students in the coming semester ;P


  17. Ooooh. The Jack Sparrow quote was just what I needed since my obsession stage can last for a rather unhealthy length of time despite efforts to assure myself that tastes vary widely.


    • Erin E. Moulton

      I hear you Kristin,
      My friend and roommate from Vermont College said that one to me and it just hit the spot :).


  18. marissaburt

    So so good to hear someone tackle this with a sense of humor and empathy to how brutal criticism can be. I’m going to save this link and revisit as needed.


  19. This is a wonderful post! I plan to bookmark it so I can come back and read it many times after my book releases and I’m feeling fragile. Thanks for this!


  20. Erin E. Moulton

    Thanks again to everyone for reading and commenting! I had a great time with this and hearing people jump in with other quotes, thoughts and comments. And Congrats to medecinewoman, you are the winner of the drawing for a free, signed copy of FLUTTER! Thanks so much for dropping by!



  21. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Coming in late to say thank you so much for this post, Erin!

    I’ll be using your 6-steps with my 4th grade students–slightly modified, perhaps. ;-)–as I think this applies perfectly to other areas of life, not just writing.

    Thanks again. 🙂


  22. Wow. SO helpful! This is what a community like this is for. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.