How Do You Respond To Criticism?
“I didn't know you were trying to be a writer.”
“Have you ever been published?”
“How good can you be if you don't have an agent?”
I've been a writer for over 25 years. I've accomplished a lot in that time but the majority of it has been through sheer hard work. Nothing in my literary career has ever been handed to me on a plate. The comments above are the just the tip of the iceberg.
Two really tough ones I received early on in my career were:
“Do the world a favour and don't continue.”
“You cannot be a writer, you are not educated enough.”
But for some irritating reason the comments that attack you, that bypass all those emotional barriers you put up and hit you straight in the heart, those ones get through. Worse than that, they stay with you too. On those frequent days when you feel a bit low, those comments are repeated inside your head. The great comments don't get a look in on those days.
So what is my point?
Simple. Criticism. Every Creative needs to hear it, even when its delivery leaves something to be desired. Every Creative needs to hear encouragement, support and enthusiasm too. After all, who doesn't?
I tend to think the people who deliver ruthless criticism have had it given to them in the past and it toughened them up so much they've actually forgotten how to be sensitive to others. For those dark-hearted folk, criticism becomes a free pass to knock other Creatives delivering it through 'professionalism' which makes it horribly acceptable.
I'd love to live in a world where we didn't need to hand out bad news. A world where we focused on the positive, highlighted the great things we've achieved and not the one or two things we got wrong. And I think we can. In fact, a lot of my creative friends agree with me. Tired are we who endure the misery of life, who take on board with weariness the voice of the negative speaker.
So, feedback/criticism, whatever you like to call it, my suggestion and recommendation would be 'give it only to those who request it and give it with professionalism but above all give it with sensitivity'. And receive it with dignity. Take on what you feel is useful to your work but discard the rest.
Creative people are creative because they have a certain amount of sensitivity within their souls. This sensitivity allows them to be in constant touch with their creativity producing some incredibly beautiful results. They write, they paint, they draw, they act, they dance, they see the world in a different way to those who use their analytical, mathematical and straight forward minds professionally.
That isn't to say Creatives don't have those traits, just as analytical people are often creative. I just feel some people have a more colourful approach to the world. For example, I have a very analytical mind but to the point where I use it only for creative writing and photography. I do tend to mis-use it too, occasionally I over-analyse comedy to the point that I stop finding the joke funny and start looking for the point at which it became funny. My theory is if I work this out, I can apply the formula to my writing (I've never been able to write comedy except for the odd one-liner).
And here I find myself criticising my own work. Self criticism can be even worse than criticism from others, though it is often fuelled by the words of others. The trick is to learn what to take on board and what to discard. I learned this early on.
It is important, and vital, to take on the points of others because they see your work with fresh eyes where you are often still inside the piece. If it is for the good of the writing, then you should accept their recommendations, although if it is given with malice, through jealousy or just a throw-away knee-jerk comment, ignore it.
Learning these skills early on in your writing career (or hobby) will stand you in good stead should you decide to submit your work to literary agents. Even if you prefer to take the independently published option as I have many times, you still need to learn to accept professional feedback. Fortunately for me, I've reached a level in my career where others request my critique. It gives me a warm feeling to know that, remembering my early setbacks, I respond with sensitivity and constructively.
I hope whatever route your writing takes, learning to cope with criticism moulds you into the type of writer who is respectful and sensitive to the feelings of other Creatives. Because kicking each other is not conducive to a happy world.
Be nice, be helpful and be pleasant to everyone you meet. With a little luck they will return the compliment.
I run a small business in Essex, UK called FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS where I offer several creative writing services including business blogging, web content, proofreading, creative writing workshops and ghost writing. I also write a monthly column for an online magazine.
Among my many literary projects and writing services, (www.loveofbooks.co.uk) I present Writer's Block on community radio (www.saintfm.co.uk) every Tuesday night from 7pm. The purpose of the show is to highlight what the county offers the world of writing.
You can get in touch with me via my website, on Face Book at Sarah Banham
or on Twitter @sjbwrites
or on Twitter @sjbwrites