5 Ways to Make Criticism of Your Writing Hurt Less

You landed a freelance writing job. A big one.

Extra effort went into delivering a great finished product. You sweated long and hard to get it just right.

Then, disaster. The client told you she hated what you turned in. Said it sucked.

Ouch. That smack across the ego left a wound so deep your descendants six generations into the future will feel it.

I know, because that’s the legacy of pain I’m leaving to my own great-great-great-whatever-grandkids.

To be perfectly frank, I don’t like having my work torn apart.

But over the years I’ve developed ways to make criticism of my freelance writing sting less. A lot less.

They’ve worked so well for me that, today, a client can rip my stuff to shreds, grind the remains into the floor with her heel, set fire to what’s left, then spit on the ashes, and it’ll barely cause a ripple in my sea of emotional calm.

Here’s how you too can make criticism of your writing less damaging to your psyche.

1. HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF AS A WRITER. Criticism of our writing is upsetting because deep down we’re unsure of our talent. We’re afraid the critic is justified in her nose-in-the-air sniffing at our labors.

The trick is to recognize you have what it takes to be a truly great freelance writer.

This isn’t self-delusion I’m peddling here. The fact of the matter is people can criticize you all day long but you’re still who you are – and who you are is a skilled practitioner of your art, and getting better at it all the time.

Always remember that.

2. ACCEPT THAT IT’S POSSIBLE TO DISAPPOINT. This is the flip side to Tip No. 1 above.

As good as you become at writing, you’ll never be perfect. None of us will. So, it’s inevitable you’ll hit sour notes some of the time or even a lot of the time (worry only if you’re misfiring all of the time).

Being aware of your potential to screw up can help the criticism go down easier. When the day comes that you actually do screw up and are ripped a new one for it, you won’t feel like there’s been an extinction-level asteroid impact somewhere on the planet. You’ll just go “Meh” and then sally forth to future success.

3. KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE. Maintain at least some detachment toward your work product. Start by acknowledging that your writing is nothing more than words on a sheet of paper.

There are approximately 230,000 words in the English language. A client tells you she hates the 400 you used in the piece you offered her? Say to her, “No problem. I’ve got 229,600 others we can try instead.”

The point is, don’t overinvest in your writing.

4. ASK FOR A CHANCE TO CURE THE DEFECT.  The worst thing you can do when your work is attacked is limp off to a corner and sulk. What you should do instead is take action.

The way you take action here is by promising the client you’ll make things right if only she’ll give you another shot at it.

Clients will usually grant such a request because they’re decent people who want to be fair.

You’ll likely only get a “no” if the job you did was so horrible that the client has lost all confidence in you, or if there isn’t enough time to cure.

If the former, then admit defeat and move on, bearing in mind Tip No. 1 above.

If the latter, then don’t just sit there – get cracking!

5. COLLABORATE WITH THE CLIENT. This one’s hard because, after being blasted by her for what she says is subpar work, the last thing you’re going to feel like doing is being on the same continent with her, never mind being in the same room or on the same phone line.

But collaborate you must. By that, I mean you’ll fare better if you reach out and say to the client something along the lines of, “I’m committed to giving you the absolute best possible product. Can we together explore what went wrong and come up with a solution?”

This is a smart move, and not just for the reason that it’s a step toward correcting the problem.

For one, it helps reduce the client’s incentive to unceremoniously kick you to the curb. For another, it shows you’re a team player. It also shows you to be honorable – and worthy of repeat business.

Bottom line: criticism of your freelance writing can hurt less if you have confidence in yourself, you keep things in perspective, and you take action aimed at satisfying the disappointed client.


Avoid Cramming Too Much Info into Headlines, Ledes

A press-release writing mistake many of us make (and I put myself at head of the offenders’ list) involves cramming too much information into the headline and lede.

One reason we do this is because we worship at the altar of keywords. We want our press releases to go to Google heaven and enjoy eternal life, rather than slip away into outer darkness and forever be forgotten.

I advise against this practice. Here’s why.

Readers don’t like it.

They don’t like it because it forces them to use mental machetes to hack their way through an underbrush of words just to reach the story.

By the time they get halfway there, they’re exhausted and give up.

So you must ask yourself: who am I writing this press release for? A search engine? Or a human who will decide whether or not to buy my product, service, or idea?

If your answer is a live decision-maker, then you’ve got to write your press release to be read. And read effortlessly.

Let’s use the example of a March 4 press release that was carried by the free wire-service PR.com.

Here’s the headline: “CRA Recognized as an Elite 150 by CRN for Managed Service Provider Excellence.”

PROBLEM: Alphabet soup.

There is one too many acronyms in the head. But more so, many readers likely won’t be familiar with the names CRA or CRN.

Confusion reigns as a result.

Not meaning to pile on, but it’s also not clear from the headline if the recognition is for managed service provider excellence or if CRN is an organization engaged in managed service provider excellence.

SOLUTION: Delete the words “by CRN” and spell out the acronym “CRA.”

You’d end up then with a head that reads: “Computer Resources of America Recognized as an Elite 150 for Managed Service Provider Excellence.”

Clearer and tighter, yes?

RICH SMITH PROPOSED REWRITE: “Computer Resources of America Wins Recognition for Excellence, Named to ‘Elite 150’ of Managed Service Providers.”

Now for the lede.

It read: “On February 14th, 2017, Computer Resources of America was once again recognized as an Elite 150 Company by the Channel Company’s 2017 Managed Service Provider (MSP) 500 list for the third consecutive year.”

PROBLEM: Brain overload. Not only are there a lot of facts packed into this one long sentence, but it’s configured in a way that spins too many plates in the air at the same time.

Skilled jugglers may be able to effortlessly read it. But my sense is most readers will take a pass.

SOLUTION: Break it into smaller sentences. Then, prioritize the most important fact to be presented first.

Hint: the most important fact is not “February 14th, 2017,” (which, in proper Associated Press style would be rendered as “Feb. 14,” leaving off the “th” and the “2017,” if the year happens to be the current year, which, here, it does so happen to be).

In order of priority, I’d say the facts in Sentence One should be 1) Computer Resources of America; 2) third consecutive year; 3) Elite 150 company; 4) managed service providers.

In order of priority, I’d say the facts in Sentence Two should be 1) Channel Company; 2) (a tie between) 500 managed service providers and Feb. 14.

So you’d end up with possibly this: “Computer Resources of America (CRA) has been recognized for the third consecutive year as an ‘Elite 150’ company among managed service providers. Channel Company, which identifies the Top 500 managed service providers, announced the honor Feb. 14.”

RICH SMITH PROPOSED REWRITE: “Computer Resources of America (CRA) today announced it was named an ‘Elite 150’ managed service provider. This is CRA’s third straight year as an ‘Elite 150’ honoree. The recognition was bestowed Feb. 14 by Channel Company, which charts the Top 500 managed service providers.”

The takeaway from this is always put the reader first, search engines second.

In fact, if you put the reader first, the search engines will actually reward you. That’s because Google et al rank higher for content that people are likely to want to actually read.

The only way people want to read something is if the writing makes whatever’s on the page readily accessible.

Bottom line: accessibility requires sentences that are short, crisp, clean, simple, well organized, and informative.