A little post about criticism, "sensitive writers syndrome" and alien destruction

Criticism, and the ability to handle it, is probably what separates most aspiring writers from most working writers. The inability to let anyone else read your work for fear they won’t like it is pretty much a hindrance to ever getting paid to write. Similarly, “safe,” bland writing, with all the soul and personality of an insurance adjuster on Valium, is not likely to win you any gigs, either.

To be any good, you have to be personally invested in the work you produce. I’m often surprised at my coworkers’ expectations when I get feedback and critique from clients on my writing. I think they’re expecting me to get all neurotic and defensive. I usually just say “It’s only copy. It’s not personal.” That statement both is and isn’t true.

What I write is my opus, in a sort of Jungian sense. Aggregately, it makes up my personal body of work. It’s not “just copy,” and it does matter to me personally, as a whole, and in considering each individual finished piece. But I don’t take criticism of what, for a sculptor, would be a rough piece of unfinished raw material (otherwise known as a “first draft”) personally. I also don’t expect that each piece, even when finished and “released into the wild” of social media or even the more static web, will make everyone happy or be a study in perfection.

I do take the criticism, for the same reason my kids take the medicine I give them when they get sick. Because it’ll make you better.

Not all criticism is valid, or valuable. But a writer in any media who can’t do anything but get defensive and deflect criticism is “protecting” herself from what could be the most valuable tool in improving the overall quality of her work.

It’s probably not too surprising to hear that I received some criticism of my work today. It was valid, valuable criticism, and it immediately prompted me to do better. Did I enjoy getting it? Sure. And right afterwards, I had to zip off to get my halo polished and my wings waxed.

But seriously, if someone gives you honest criticism, they’re giving you a gift. You just have to be big enough to handle it, take it in, and apply as necessary. I’m a better writer today because of the criticism I received yesterday, and I’ll be a better writer tomorrow because of today’s feedback.

And when I get home, I can just pop in Oblivion and hack goblins to bits to work out that lingering post-graciously-handled-criticism aggression.

6 Comments


  1. ·

    I agree whole heartedly! I learned (the hard) way years ago that perception is reality and if your readers/viewers/listeners perceive you work in a certain light, then it is reality – right, wrong or indifferent. In a former life, I was an on-air television, radio and print journalist and received quite a bit of criticism – some constructive, others not so constructive. How you handle the criticism will define you regardless of what profession you practice.

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  2. ·

    Invaluable! This is the most useful post I’ve read in ages. How ‘perfect’ do you make your first draft before letting someone see it? Is it something that you feel is print-worthy, but someone else can see the areas which need to be tweaked? Or do you basically toss some coherent thoughts on a page, knowing that you are going to refine it several times? This is something that I have not mastered. (or comprehended yet) lol

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  3. Kat
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    @Gary – Thanks so much for the feedback. You make a good point, as well, about perception. Sometimes, your experience tells you to go one way, and the client tells you to go another, and ultimately, you go with the client. Part of the beauty of writing for the web is that sometimes you get the best of both worlds, and you get to do split testing, and let the audience tell you which way is better. But absolutely, the inability to handle criticism is a “career limiting factor” for almost anyone.

    @Jonna – I personally tend to think of it like bread. The first draft always needs to rest, and then I come back to it later and “punch it down”–make my own revisions. If I feel generally good about it after that, then I “bake” it in the oven of others’ criticism. If it still feels a little off, I might let it rest and punch it down for one more round. But I think past that point, you run the danger of “overworking” and overthinking it. šŸ™‚

    Except of course for blog posts, which I dash off without correcting the title when I decide to use goblins in Oblivion as my closing rather than aliens in Mass Effect. šŸ˜‰

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  4. ·

    Invaluable! This is the most useful post I've read in ages. How 'perfect' do you make your first draft before letting someone see it? Is it something that you feel is print-worthy, but someone else can see the areas which need to be tweaked? Or do you basically toss some coherent thoughts on a page, knowing that you are going to refine it several times? This is something that I have not mastered. (or comprehended yet) lol

    Reply

  5. ·

    When a professor interjects his concepts into your poem, does it lose it’s own voice, its originality?
    Is criticism an opinion which differs between the teaching ethic of the different professor?
    Is there a definitive right or wrong to poetic idealism? Does criticism distroy individuality in poetic tone or form? Can the means justify the end? I am against criticism, It only acts to distroy the uniqueness of individuality for who has the right to change the color or concept,the purness of perception. The true opinion is the one from within, the one in one’s guts that spits out fodder and flame but never change. That is the true poet. For what criticism taught Whitman how to write? You give me truth in poetic form and I will show you a fool and an insecure writer who believes he needs a nursemaid to teach him how to write. The true poet needs no cane to walk an honest road. By your attitude it is obvious you cannot be shown individuality for you, like so many are in the box. Open your eyes man, to the truth. Originality does not breed contempt but a freedom, it is obvious you know nothing about.

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