Facing off criticism

“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.” Malcom X

Criticism is hard. I don’t know anyone who gets excited about criticism. But it’s what we do with the criticism that can make all the difference.

One of the things that I’ve learnt so far in my two and half years in a professional writing and editing course is that criticism comes thick and fast. Each time I workshop a piece – when I make myself ridiculously vulnerable – I open myself up to 20 odd different views on what worked, and what didn’t. Each time I get too cocky that I’ve ‘got it’, I’m brought back down to reality – there can always be more done to my work.

And ALWAYS the hardest part is to read the critical feedback and not respond (seething in my head) that they just don’t get it. The very next thing I have to fend off, is that I should give up.

Instead I have to take a breath. Put it away for a little while (the more critical the feedback, the longer I need), and then reflect on what they have noticed about the piece, and what it is missing, or overstated. Often when I’ve come back to it the first thing I notice is the positive remarks that I was blind to in the first read. There you go, it wasn’t all that bad, I tell myself. Then I’m much more receptive to what they have noticed about my writing that could improve it.

It would be easier to never show anyone anything that I have written, but for some reason that is the tick of being a writer – we keep writing and putting it out there. And for me, every time I do, my heart is in my mouth, petrified about the reader’s response. Have I communicated the message clearly? Have I muddied it up? Ultimately all I want to know is that I have touched the reader somehow (and for every reader their reaction will be slightly different as they bring their own life baggage into their reading of it).

If I shut myself off to criticism I will never grow as a writer, and this whole writing thing is just one long journey that I love. That’s why I will continue to workshop my writing, bat away that negative voice in my head (GIVE it up! What were you thinking? You cannot write…and so on), suck up the feedback, and with my tail between my legs get back into it.

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