How to Handle Criticism with Grace as a Freelance Writer

“To bear defeat with dignity, to accept criticism with pose, to receive honors with humility – these are marks of maturity and graciousness.”
– William Arthur Ward

Criticism is always hard to swallow. No one really wants to hear from someone else what they have done wrong.

And yet, criticism is inevitable in a freelance writer’s job. Call it an occupational hazard in freelance writing, if you will. It’s simply impossible to please everyone no matter how hard you try.

When faced with criticism, the question is not how you can avoid getting criticized. It is how you should deal with it. If you handle criticism positively and with grace, you can avert a potentially bad situation and turn it to your advantage.

Why were you criticized in the first place?

Even though it’s hard to admit it, sometimes we do deserve the criticism we get. After all, there’s no such thing as an action without any consequences.

Maybe you didn’t give the job you were commissioned to do the effort it required. Perhaps the research was sloppy, the content was poorly written and not properly optimized, and you didn’t follow your client’s instructions to the letter. You simply assumed that your client wouldn’t know any better and wouldn’t notice that the quality of the work you delivered was less than stellar.

As people say, assumption is the mother of all f***ups. Clients aren’t stupid and they always know what they want even if they find it difficult to express themselves clearly. Eventually they will realize that you didn’t give the work they’ve assigned to you the time and effort it should have gotten, and they will call you out on it.

Criticism in this scenario can be hard to take because you know that you’re at fault. But since your client has got you cornered, you may take the defensive stance because you feel that there’s no other choice.

Actually, there is. Instead of going on the defensive, just apologize to your client and make them feel that your only concern is that they’re happy with your work. Ask your client what changes need to be made to the project and offer to make the necessary revisions. You don’t have to admit that it’s your fault if your ego doesn’t allow you to, but you should try to make the client happy. In that way, you may still get return business from them.

Of course, sometimes it really isn’t your fault.

As I said earlier, it’s impossible to please everyone. No matter how good a job you do, you will always find a client who won’t fall in love with your work no matter how hard you try.

What do you do when that happens? You can ask for further clarifications and feedback. Ask them what they want for the project until you find out what they really want to get out of the project.

If that doesn’t work, then don’t feel guilty about walking away. You and the client are simply not a right fit for each other, and you can’t force a good business relationship to come out of that. Get your payment, and then move on to other projects.

You can’t control your client’s behavior, but you can control your own.

One of the worst things you can do in the face of criticism is to blow your top at your client. It’s far too easy to lose your temper when your client is criticizing you and is being difficult. However, you should always remember that while you can’t control what your client tells you, you can control your own reactions. You can still come out as the winner in the situation depending on how you react to it.

It’s all a matter of perspective. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey told this anecdote about a man he met on the subway. The man had with him his very young children, and these kids’ loud antics disturbed and irritated the other passengers. The father seemed oblivious to his children’s behavior, though, until Mr. Covey called his attention to it. As it turned out, the father was not being insensitive; he and his children were coming home from the hospital where his wife had died merely an hour earlier. The man was in a daze and didn’t know what to do, and his kids were probably just trying to cope with their loss as well.

Maybe it’s the same with your client. Maybe they’re just in a bad mood or something is going on with them that you’re not aware of, and that’s why they’re being difficult. In that case, just keep your cool. They’ll appreciate your professionalism about the whole thing and perhaps steer more business your way later on.

Don’t take it personally. Instead, look at the bright side.

The most important thing about handling criticism is you should never take it personally. The criticism is aimed at your work, not at you. Just take it in stride and learn what you can out of it.

What if the criticism really hurt? Well, there’s no helping it. After all, your ego was bruised and your feelings were wounded. If you feel that way, go ahead and sulk a little. I believe it is okay to sulk as long as you don’t turn it into a huge pity-party. No throwing of objects or screaming at people, if you please. Allow yourself ten minutes to process your emotions, and then snap out of it.

Receiving criticism is part of a freelance writer’s job. You can’t keep them from coming, but you can at least make them less frequent. Criticism may hurt a little, but you can always learn something from them.

Have you received criticism that really stung you? How did you deal with it?

Image: Dominic Burdon


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Anna Sibal-Gonzaga is a freelance writer based in the Philippines. She likes reading books and watching movies and TV shows in the sci-fi, fantasy and historical genres. She is also a casual gamer and an all-around nerd.

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  1. Lynn

    Thankfully, I haven’t received any comments yet that particularly stung me. However, given my reactions to simple, well-meaning comments so far, I would do well to adjust how I react. 😀 The editor of a book I helped to write just gave me a few suggestions and asked some questions about the content, all perfectly valid ones, but I was already fuming inside. Tsk tsk.

    1. Anna Sibal-Gonzaga

      Hi, Lynn. I think it’s a normal reaction, getting annoyed with and even fuming at editors and clients who won’t accept our work as they are. But yeah, we’d do really well to adjust how we react. 🙂

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