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The Best Thing You Can do For Your Writing

The title of this post assumes that you’re writing consistently. If not, go do that.

Then, when you’re trucking along with some good habits on your side, here’s the best thing you can do for your writing:

Don’t take praise or criticism personally.

Recently I posted about sending off my manuscript to my editor. I thought I was almost done. I was surprised when it came back to me for the next round of edits.

I’m not even close to being done. I thought I’d turned in what, for anyone else, would surely be a third or fourth draft. It’s not. It’s a first draft. It’s a raw first draft.

The first draft of anything is always shit–Ernest Hemingway


The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I’ve done a lot of good writing on this book. And a lot of it’s not good. A lot of it looks…like a first draft.

I would have been defensive about some of the editorial comments if I hadn’t learned the lesson over the past year:

For the work to be its best, you can’t fall in love with the praise and you can’t get hysterical over the criticism.

Writing a book is hard work. It’s worth doing right. And to do it right, you need someone who won’t shortchange the work to spare your feelings.

When my editor wrote, “I don’t want to seem too negative, I just…,” my response was:

My wife can hold my hand. I need you to be civil but ruthless. Let’s get it right. We can be great pals when it’s done.

Take the praise as a sign that you put in the time to get it right.Pat yourself on the back, put your head back down, and move on.

Take the criticisms as reminders that writing can always be improved. As challenges to hone your skills and pay more attention.

Honor the work. Give it everything it deserves.That’s the only way the readers will get what they deserve.

Go to it!

photo: http://www.lostgarden.com/2011/05/blunt-critique-of-game-criticism.html


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Doug June 21, 2012, 1:00 am

    Great post Josh,
    I am always interested in learning how to become a better writer.

    Learning to take criticism has been tough since I have a tendency to take it personally. This will help.

    Best of luck with your book and future writing.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 21, 2012, 8:25 am

      It’s easier in theory than in practice. It still stings me, too, but I know it’s irrational of me. I didn’t always know that.

      Criticism leads to choices, and choices require thought. Not a bad thing!

  • Don June 21, 2012, 6:17 am

    A good reminder to apply in a lot of areas of life. I recently took a bullet for something I wrote here at work and my first reponse was to quit. This is a reminder to suck it up and consider they might be right.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 21, 2012, 8:26 am

      They could be wrong, too!

      If someone tells me I’m great, and someone else says I’m a failure, the temptation is always to believe the one who says I’m great. Of course, they could both be wrong. It all makes me think, and I’m grateful for it all.

  • Daisy June 21, 2012, 9:19 am

    “Civil but ruthless” – brilliant phrase.

    I need to surround myself with good writers. If I’m surrounded by average writers, they all think I’m great, and then I don’t improve. So, Josh, how about you and your family move in next door? 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne June 21, 2012, 9:38 am

      On my way.

    • Pauline June 22, 2012, 5:12 pm

      Great idea, Daisy.

  • Iroko@Blog Business Academy June 24, 2012, 2:19 pm

    I love tips about improving my writing and I can add that you should always carry a pen and notes, because ideas about something to write on can just come in a flash…but there is nothing like doing a research and gathering post ideas!

  • Daniel James Shigo October 19, 2012, 1:32 pm

    Big full-throated yes to this. Yes to writing constantly. Yes to ‘no praise, no blame.’ First heard of this approach in the work of Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher. A companion thought is ‘respond with thanks when criticized.’ It gets everyone off the hook.

    Excellent blog.