Making criticism constructive

Using bad writing advice as gatekeeping to keep some people outside of writing circles seemed like a strange accusation to me. It was not something that I considered before, but as I continued to read the article, I recognized behavior which I had witnessed…

A group leader, one with more experience at least in their area, provided a critique on a submission that was not perfect. However, following the advice would push the piece of writing in the wrong direction. A heart wrenching memoir writer would be redirected to add a science fiction touch to make it more entertaining and less poignant. The reviewer would insist a direct explanation be part of a mystery piece in which the reader should be sifting through clues. The other oddity occurred if a “non-friend” offered a comment that was useful. It was often labeled as “not worth paying attention to.”

There are different motives for the negative comments received from others, both in formal critiques and casual discussions. When listening to my critics, I should consider which of the following is true.

1. My work lacks quality in a certain area that needs to be fixed. Critics may note the problem or may give suggestions for fixing the problem. Although providing that kind of specific advice rubs some people the wrong way, it is often still worth hearing. I may not use the fix suggested but it does help me understand the problem which was detected.

2. My work contains a particular verb tense, part of speech, or common word which a famous author has eschewed. The critic often informs me of this as a show of knowledge. Of course, no one could disagree with a best-selling author, could they? Actually, a person could easily do this. I don’t write with the same voice, or in the same genre, or for the same audience. Breaking this prohibition may actually make my work better. I may rewrite per suggestion, but I do not destroy the original. I can come back and compare these a week later with a clear head to see which is the best.

3. The critic does not like my personality and they connect what I write with me. The odd part is that I am not my main character in ninety percent of my stories. I consider my own life not as interesting as other’s. The comments may result in incorrect conclusions because the intention is not to make sense. I recall when a person called my logic-driven female character unlikeable (because they disliked me) and then explained the character showed lack of self-esteem, when the opposite was true. However, there is no reason to tell people that their criticism is illogical. That won’t make them like me any better.

4. The critic disagrees with the ideas and values embodied in my work. Artistic work always reveals the author’s values, even when the writing is not didactic. The actual ethics may never be mentioned, but this critic frequently insisting on changes for things that could be written either way. Others have their own idea of right and wrong, so I cannot force them to believe as I do. Nor do I have to force myself to do as they say.

Do the water on a duck’s back routine. Just smile and nod, and let the comments roll off. However, when the last two types of criticism occurs to others, it helps to give them the encouragement to take criticism that is constructive and leave the other kind behind.

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