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Writing Tip: Learn to Use Criticism

Let’s just get this clear, right from the start: if you are writing and putting your writing in front of others, you will encounter criticism. Just the way it is. Doesn’t matter how good you are, how much money you make, how many contests you’ve won. When you expose your writing to anyone else, you are asking for comments. Like most of the arts, it’s largely a matter of taste and opinion.  And everyone, if I may say so, has at least one.

Can you really be said to be writing if no one else reads it?  If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one to read what it wrote, did it make a noise? Getting criticized means you’ve delivered what you’ve written. What you’re supposed to do.  As long as you do, there will be comments and feedback, especially if someone is paying for your words.

Criticism is a blessing to an act as subjective as writing.  Most of the time it’s me and my words.  A writer’s perception of what’s written can become fuzzy and familiar.  An outside source provides a sharpening of the lense.  When delivered properly, criticism shines a light on information which can make your writing better.

The other truth here is that, at our core, we are all sensitive beings.  Some criticism is more difficult to hear than others. General comments are often more hurtful and generally less helpful. How damaged we are by it depends on who is delivering and the stage of feedback receptivity we are in at the moment. Criticism is not easy to take.

The wrong criticism, given by the wrong person can send us out of the room screaming, cause an adult to crawl up into a ball, weeping, frozen on the tracks.  It might even, dare I say it, make a writer give up!  Fear of criticism is often the reason why novels sit in the back of a drawer, unread. Every writer must construct methods for conjuring a protective barrier. Some of us couldn’t earn our living without some way of handling it, no matter how it is delivered.

It may be possible to let the hurt inspire you and move you forward, but I don’t think that’s a long-lasting solution.  It can works well, though, as fuel to get you started. Tending to your wounds can help you get back on your feet again, but it is not enough to fix the problem.

To be more successful, it has to be an internal change.  Remembering that it means we are really writing can sometimes ease the pain. Disassociating yourself is another good ploy.  When we write, it often feels like we’re putting a piece of ourselves on the paper.  In many ways, we are.  But we can keep in mind that it is only ONE piece.  If there is something wrong with the writing, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the writer.

Someone once said, no person or group of persons defines our worth. One cross word (or 5) from others doesn’t add up to who you are as a writer. What’s helped me is to say, some people like my writing, and some don’t. Inevitably there will be people who simply don’t like how I write. Thank goodness, there are also some who do!

If you can, ask the person for more information.  Getting clearer on what they’re really trying to say you might find: a) what they’re saying is not really as hurtful as you thought, b) it is just what you needed to hear, or  c) their criticism is incorrect.

Keep in mind that not all criticism is valid.  Just because someone says it, doesn’t make it true.  Consider whether it’s general or specific.  Who is saying it?   See how it feels to you. Would the change make your writing better?  If it doesn’t feel right, thank them for their thoughts and keep doing it the way you’ve been doing it. (However, it might pay to stay alert for any other such comments from other sources.)

The more criticism you can take without dramatic repercussions, the easier it is to  use it.  When you can skip the angst and go straight to asking questions – Do I understand what this person is saying?  How could I use this to improve my writing?  Is it true? – then you will open yourself to the data that can really improve your work. The fodder for honing your craft.  Learn to process it without hurt and you can do some wonderful things for your writing!


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