All that constructive criticism is to be expected and any writer who gets into this business expecting anything else is setting themselves up for heartache. But there’s another hard truth you learn as a writer, and that’s that not all criticism is constructive. Or even helpful. In fact, some criticism can come across as flat-out mean, even if the reviewer didn't intend it to be. Let me give you an example to illustrate what I mean.
Serengeti came out in early February 2016 and has received overwhelmingly positive reviews—thank you readers! Yes, there was a minor kluge with the published version, but my publisher (Severed Press) hopped right on it and fixed that right up. When I dissected the constructive criticism, I found most of the ‘dissenters’ didn’t like my portrayal of the robots, or how human I made the AI. Perfectly valid opinions—that falls into that ‘I didn’t connect with the characters’ critique I mentioned earlier—and while disappointing, didn’t really bother me. In fact, of the 50 or so reviews Serengeti has gotten, only two drifted into the ‘ouch, that hurt’ category of non-constructive criticism. One aspect I expected: the battle lines of ‘soft’ sci-fi versus ‘hard’ sci-fi are well known—a division that can spawn arguments as heated as religion. The other…well, the other frankly caught me off-guard:
The premise sounds so good - the main character is a sentient AI warship, who doesn't love those! Unfortunately this time the wit of Iain Banks and philosophy of Anne Leckie are replaced with technobabble ("fractal lasers") and heavy-handed exposition. If you haven't read any science fiction at all and preferably don't know or care about actual science, you might like this book. It is very clearly the author's first work, and she can only improve from here.
So, why am I babbling on about this on my blog? Because there are hundreds if not thousands of writers out there dealing with this same kind of criticism every day. It sucks, it hurts—I’m not denying that—but there’s nothing we as writers can do to change that if we want to continue being writers. Like most writers, I tend to hyper-focus on all the bad stuff and skip right over all the good. That’s a path to drinking and depression and giving up on the thing I love.
Not going down that road. There’s a jabberwocky at the end. Instead, I try to take all the non-constructive feedback I get and make something positive out of it. Find a learning experience in this negative thing someone wrote and realize it’s only words—they won’t kill me.
Don’t let the bastards get you down, writers. You’re better than that. We all are.