Posted in Writer's problems

When constructive criticism becomes destructive: is your beta reader a bully?

It’s a lie that authors cringe at constructive criticism. Authors cringe at destructive criticism. Beta readers are surprise eggs. Sometimes the personification of kindness will make you want to throw your laptop out of the window.

“But they meant well!”

Really? I don’t think so. There are limits of constructive criticism. And when they are crossed, the constructive criticism becomes destructive criticism. Let’s take a look at the difference between the two:

Constructive criticism: as the name indicates, it builds you. It makes you feel empowered. If you are encouraged to do better than you have done already, if you see the path of improvement in front of you and you can’t wait to step on it – this is constructive criticism. You feel safe giving a work full of mistakes to your beta reader because you know that they will do their best to help you and your work. You know that they will show you not only your weaknesses, but also strengths.

Destructive criticism: as the name indicates, it destroys you. It points out your mistakes in a shockingly malicious way and it humiliates you as an author. It causes you to reconsider your writing journey. It tells you that your writing is trash and there is not much you can do about it, unless you rewrite everything. You feel angry, tearful, hurt. And you are wondering: am I an oversensitive crybaby or is beta reader… actually bullying me?

They really might have bullied you. Take a close look at their comments and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this person’s advice full of nasty remarks that could be avoided? Or: was there another, more empathic way to convey the same meaning? (e.g. beta reader says: “your main character is so stupid they should jump out of the window” instead of: “I believe that the main character needs more development, as they sometimes appear thoughtless. It happenese on the page 34 and 35, here is how you can change it *suggests a solution*).
  • Can this person really provide proof for their offensive and belittling arguments? (e.g. if they say that your book is similar to a fanfiction written by a 13 year old, can they show you which scenes make them think like that? PS: “All scenes” is not a valid answer.)
  • If this person had your best interests at heart, would they really speak to you in this way? 

And here is a list of other red flags to look out for:

  • Your beta reader compares you to authors or genres they hate.
  • Your beta reader calls you or your character names.
  • Your beta reader uses other ways to offend you or your characters (e.g. they call them mentally ill, while they don’t have any mental health problems).
  • Your beta reader viciously points out every smallest mistake you make and uses it to prove their theory on your lack of skills.
  • Your beta reader never says anything positive about your writing.
  • Your beta reader makes you feel afraid to show your writing to the world and to send it to the publishers.
  • Your beta reader feels like a hater.
  • Your beta reader makes you feel confused about your work (you suddenly don’t know if it’s good or bad and start questioning everyone else’s opinions).
  • Your gut just tells you that they are not meaning well.
  • Your beta reader’s opinion isn’t backed by other people’s opinions.
  • You feel an urge to sting back your beta reader, just to hurt them as much as they hurt you.
  • Your gut tells you that you and your work don’t deserve to be treated this way.

If all or some of the above feels like your curent beta reader, fire them.

You can do it by saying you haven’t written anything new and gradually distance yourself.

Or you can tell them straight that their criticism is not constructive and hence you are not interested in their “help” anymore. Write down most hurtful things they have written and send it to them with a question: “how would you feel if I told you this about YOUR writing?” (or anything they do).

If they say you can’t accept criticism, ignore it. They are wrong: you can accept criticism, you just refuse to be bullied. Yes, this sort of “giving good advice” is bullying.

If they apologize, accepting apology is up to you. Personally, I immediately cut contact with such people, and I don’t give second chances. Trust me that having drama in your life really is optional.

If you are asking yourself why you received destructive criticism: people criticize because it makes them feel important. Notice how the critic is always above the artist.  However, most critics and artists actually have the same goal: get approvement and some bread to eat.

Beta readers shouldn’t have absolute power over you. Keep in mind, that you, as an author, are the most important person and you can always reject advice and go your own way. Always do what feels right to you.

Here are some self care tips after you have received destructive criticism: 

  • Remember that people are biased. Everyone’s opinion on your book will be different. Some will love it, some will hate it, others will be neutral about it. A wide range of opinions is what every author faces. Opinions are not the prophecies of the oracle. They are just other people’s thoughts. Some of them might be valuable, some of them might be not. What you are doing when accepting opinions from different beta readers is actually gold rinsing: instead of putting the gold together with the stones in your bagback, learn to recognize real gold and throw away the stones.
  • Call your support team: family, friends and everyone else who you know will do their best to help you. Tell them what happened and ask for reassurance. If they tell you that your book is good, really believe them.
  • Take a rest from hearing criticism. Don’t put your work out there until you heal emotionally. Give yourself time to overcome this.
  • Spend time mastering your writing skills so that you become even better. Let the hatred motivate you. If you want to show them, show them!
  • Re-read your own works with an attitude of appreciation. Write down what you love the most about your writing and how writing makes you happy.
  • Focus on how much you love your characters. If you can draw, draw them, and if you can’t, ask somebody else to do it for you. A visualization in which you hang out with your characters and talk to them will also help. Your characters have strengths that you don’t have and listening to their wise words can lift you up.

And last but not least:

If you had some bad beta reader experiences, tell them to your new beta reader and have an honest talk about how you imagine your future work. If possible, ask the beta reader to let you read some comments they wrote for someone else’s work. Or, ask your friends to suggest some trusted beta readers to you.

I hope it helps. Peace.

 

Author:

Hi! I am an author. I've published my debut novel in 2015 in Poland ("Dokąd teraz popłynę?"). My main genre is fantasy and magical realism. I often discuss socially difficult topics in my works and try to pass on a message of hope. I am always inspired and I never stop writing. My writing inspirations are Bruno Schulz, Pablo Neruda, Kiran Desai and Haruki Murakami. In my private life I am a polyglot. I believe in the Law Of Attraction and I write about it on UltimateManifester at Wordpress.

Leave a Reply

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