A Writer’s Most Valuable Skill: The Ability to Take a Punch

I often compare being a writer to being a boxer. Because I have a wildly inflated view of how hard my job is. Kidding.

I make the comparison because when a kid dreams of being a boxer, they imagine themselves knocking people out. They never see themselves getting hit, even though taking a punch is half the job.

This also happens to young writers. They imagine their work being hailed as brilliant. They never imagine being told their work is shit, even though criticism is half the job.

A writer-friend of mine likes to say, “Art without criticism is just a hobby.” I couldn’t agree with that statement more.

If you want to be a real writer, you have to learn to deal with criticism. Some of it will be constructive. Some of it will be mean. And some of it will be pure bullshit. You have to learn to deal with all of it.

You have to learn how to bob and weave your way through the punches. And you have to stand up to the ones that land right in your face.

Internet Comments and “Haters”

I was once basically called arrogant by 4 different commenters on a blog… There were only 4 comments, by the way.

Yup, 100%. I went 4/4.

I shared the link with my friend and he said my voice was finally coming through in my writing. Thanks, dick.

There are some people who will tell you that you should welcome and enjoy criticism. Well, that’s just a load of goddamn nonsense right there. I don’t think anyone actually enjoys criticism. People who say that are like those lunatics who tell you they find getting a tattoo relaxing. You’re either a liar or a fucking psycho.

Actually enjoying criticism is a bit extreme, but, you need to learn how to deal with it. Listen to it, absorb it, and do one of two things with it:

  1. Take it apart objectively, then use it to improve your work
  2. Take it apart objectively, then stand by your work and make the case for it

Were the people who called me arrogant wrong? No.

I wasn’t consciously going for an arrogant voice. I wanted a piece that would resonate with frustrated agency writers. In an agency, there’s an “Us vs. Them” mentality between the creatives and the client. I wanted to tap into that.

This led me to an arrogant voice. Mind you, I could write a grocery list and it would probably come off as smug.

I re-read the blog and stood by my work. It wasn’t super-relatable to these people, but I was confident it would entertain more people than it would piss off.

Dealing With Client Feedback

You’ll need these

I’ve learned how to deal with client feedback, but I wasn’t always good at it. Ok, that’s an understatement.

In my early career, I turned into an angry hockey dad when criticized. I could say whatever I want about my own writing. But, if anyone else said shit about it, I would leap out of my seat and go after their windpipe.

“Say it again. Call my writing staccato one more time, mother fucker. I dare you”

But, in an agency setting, client feedback is your life. Designers and writers have to learn how to deal with it. I’ve personally witnessed designers bite through their lower lip as the client suggested filling their lovely negative space with logos and badges.

An agency writer’s job is to take client feedback, validate it, and find a way to incorporate it into the project without hurting the quality. If it is going to hurt the quality, you need to tactfully make the case that your way is better. If they still push back, you pretty much have to smile and do it their way. It’s their brand and their money.

Some agency people seem to be born with this skill. Other hockey-dad-types like me have to learn it through hard experience. But, your ability to do this is as vital to the job as your actual writing.

The Feedback loop

I’ve been doing this gig for a while now, and I still don’t “enjoy” feedback. I may tell a client “Looking forward to your feedback,” but I’m actually looking forward to getting the feedback process over as quickly as possible.

I doubt I’ll ever enjoy feedback, but I know I need it. If you close yourself off to feedback, you will become more arrogant than the dick who wrote the blog I mentioned earlier. More importantly, your writing will be pure shit. We need feedback to keep us on our toes and keep our instrument in tune.

You’re going to get hit. That much is inevitable. Learn how to take a punch and keep dancing. That’s the sweet science of writing.

3 thoughts on “A Writer’s Most Valuable Skill: The Ability to Take a Punch

  1. Good post and good points. In my field (Learning), there is an understanding among service providers that often the client knows what they want, but they don’t know what they need. Our job (and it sounds like the writer’s as well) is to try to suss out what they need and deliver that while also delivering on the ‘want’. No small feat.


  2. Great piece and follow-up to a previous post.

    I find my job when receiving feedback is to ask “What are they really trying to say?”.
    A lot of factors there like timing of feedback, tone, did they copy more people on their response, etc.


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