How to Cope When Your Manuscript Is Black and White and Red All Over

You did it. You sent your manuscript out to be appraised by someone else—and you’re not sure whether to shout hurray or groan. Maybe you’re trying to get published, or maybe you’re just seeking feedback. Maybe this is the first time you’ve shown your work to someone, or maybe it’s the one-hundredth time. Whatever the case, you’ve placed your writing in someone else’s hands and now you’re trembling and biting your nails as you await the results.

Black_and_White_and_Red_All_OverThen you hear the flutter of paper, the ding of an e-mail, or the shuffle of the mailman, and your precious bundle arrives. But as you open it, you gasp at all the bloodstains marring the pages, and you wrestle with one of two thoughts:

  1. I must be a horrible writer!
  2. This person doesn’t understand me or my piece, and they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Both of these reactions are wrong, and neither is good for your morale as a writer (although at least the first displays humility). You’re understandably feeling stung, but before you start sobbing or chopping off any heads, pause to pray for wisdom. To endure criticism and emerge a more astute writer, you need to analyze five factors. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Brianna Storm Hilvety
Brianna was born with a rumble in her veins. She finds the tap of a keyboard to be soothing like the pitter-patter of rain. She has been a writer for a decade, a freelance editor for a few years, and a bibliophile from the moment she pronounced her first syllable. Proudly a Silver Member of The Christian PEN, she serves on their team as Graphics Coordinator. She exudes her passion for speculative fiction and helping young writers by being an Associate Editor at Castle Gate Press and the Copy Editor/Director of Graphics for Kingdom Pen. When she isn’t poring over words, she may be spotted shooting her Canon, riding The Breeze (an all-terrain vehicle), or romping with her dog, Zookie. Purple is her signature color, and she refuses to recognize all other claims to it.


“We build our sandbag walls to brace ourselves against the onslaught of negative feedback. Yes, writers are an insecure bunch.”

Beginning writers make a lot of mistakes. From improper pac­ing to shallow characters, young writers are going to make mistakes. It’s the only way to grow. All of these weaknesses can be overcome; however, in my opinion, there is one weakness–the great­est weakness of young writers—which can derail any possibility of improvement.

The biggest weakness I’ve seen in beginning writers (and I’m guilty of it too) is sandbagging.


Now what is “sandbagging”? Sandbagging is building up your defenses and lowering the expectations of another person. This al­most always manifests itself when a young writer sends me part of their story to read. They’ll say something along the lines of, “Here you go, it’s absolutely horrible, you’ll understand once you read it.”

I used to do this myself, but I’ve stopped (or I’ve at least tried to stop). Yet so many young writers feel the need to lower their reader’s expectations before they read it; that way, if they don’t like it—we theorize—that’s okay because I know it’s terrible already and it was nothing special anyway.

In my experience, there are two reasons writers sandbag (even if they don’t consciously realize they’re doing it). There are those of us who sandbag, but only to peo­ple who we know will be merciful (or at least won’t ridicule us for our writing.) Thus, when we hear positive feedback after the low expecta­tions we’ve set, we seem like writing gurus.

“Wow! She is such a good writer but she thinks she’s terrible! She must know something I don’t know!”

Sandbagging, in this case, is really an expression of pride, I be­lieve. We look good when we criticize our writing and others praise it.

The other reason for sandbagging is that we are afraid. We want to downplay our writing to keep ourselves protected from any criti­cism that may be lurking in the bushes. We build our sandbag walls to brace ourselves against the onslaught of negative feedback. Yes, we writers are an insecure bunch.

Whether you sandbag for the first reason, the second reason, or both, it needs to stop.

Now, what’s so wrong with sandbagging? If sandbagging really was just a mechanism to brace against criticism, then I might say that it’s okay, but sandbagging is rarely as simple as that.



Sandbagging is hardly ever realistic. If we want to improve as writers, we have to stay real. Sandbagging usually involves making up problems that aren’t there, or overreacting to real issues. This can either be out of fear, pride, or both. Whatever combination, when we sandbag, we weave a protective web of self-deception. Consciously or subconsciously, we want to hide from the truth, because we fear that truth will be bad, or horribly depressing. That won’t help us improve. We don’t want to be blind to our mistakes or our strengths.

As a general rule of thumb, things are never as bad as they seem, nor are they as good as we think. Keep that in the back of your mind when evaluating your own writing, and try to objectively evalu­ate where the weaknesses are. Objectively critiquing our own writ­ing is extremely difficult, which is why finding others to read and critique your writing is paramount to your development. Speaking of others…



Sandbagging is inconsiderate to others. They don’t want to hear how deplorable your novel is before you shove it off on them to read. You’re pretty much manipulating them into going easy on your novel, which you don’t want! They may overlook faults in the story because they know how negative you already feel towards it. Your poor critiquer may feel the need to reassure you that your novel has potential, rather than provide you accurate feedback. So please, be

We build our sandbag walls to brace ourselves against the onslaught of negative feedback. Yes, writers are an insecure bunch.

Be nice and don’t put your reader in an awkward position by sandbag­ging them.



Sandbagging is weak and fearful. Don’t be weak and fearful.

“But I am weak and fearful…”

Oh! There you go again! It’s weak and fearful to say that you’re weak and fearful. That’s the easy way out. You don’t have to be that way. You get to choose!

Even if your writing is astonishingly deplorable (which, if you’re reading this, I highly doubt it is) there is still no reason to be insecure about yourself or your writing. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you have to write to get better. You don’t need to apologize for where you are; in the same way, you shouldn’t brag for where you are. It’s two sides of the same coin.


Harms your development:

One of the most important aspects to becoming good at any­thing, is attitude. A positive attitude of excitement leads to hope and motivation. You can focus on enjoying writing for the sake of writing, and not get caught up in the quality of it. This allows you to achieve the quantity you need to produce quality. Negativity shuts down in­spiration and creativity. Don’t be ashamed of your writing, no matter how good or “bad” you think it is. You can’t afford it.

Stop with the sandbagging. Be realistic, and realize the reality is that it takes time and hard work to become good. But if you allow yourself to indulge in negative thoughts about your writing, you will lose the desire to improve and become good. It’s hard to start the climb to greatness when the wall looks insurmountable. You have to start at the beginning, and take it one step at a time.

If you stay positive, and keep practicing and working hard, it’s not a matter of if you will become a great writer, but when.

How To Take Criticism Well

Criticism. A frightening word. Criticism has such a negative connotation associated with it, that many a writer instinctively prepares their defenses at the mere utterance of the word.  Criticism is naturally a hard pill to swallow, butit doesn’t have to be. In fact, learning how to take criticism well is essential to our growth as writers.

Truth be told, I’m really not the one who should be writing an article on how to take criticism. I have actually been told that I’m defensive. Yes me! How can I refute such a claim? There is really no way to defend against being called defensive without sounding defensive. I guess it’s true. However, I do think I’m getting better, and I have learned a few things along the way that I would like to share with you.

And now, five tips on how to take criticism:

[Read more…]