If you hide your work away, no one can criticize it or reject it. Isn’t that clever!? But does that foolproof, protective maneuver really serve you?
The act of writing is not what I find terrifying. What petrifies me is the outcome of showing my writing to other people.
When I think about writing in a diary, journal, or notebook, the words flow out of me. I find it easiest to write if I am under the impression that no one will ever see my work. Something about the assurance that no one will be able to see (or judge) the things that I have to say feels liberating. In the end, I am able to write anything I want without fear of what others might think about my writing, specifically, or about me, in general.
I have always loved to write, but I have never loved sharing it. That fear applies beyond my fiction writing. Until my junior year in college, when it became absolutely necessary for me to write three to four essays per class per semester, I had a deep paranoia that all my teachers would hate anything I wrote. Most of the time, I was wrong. Usually, the comments were rather stellar, . . . but as a friend told me recently, “Don’t hurt your arm patting yourself on the back.”
On that same fateful day, I got back a paper that was about a book-to-film adaption. The teacher had asked us to write our opinions—an assignment I hated in the first place. Low and behold, I received an “F,” a big, fat, stupid “F” that was essentially the end of my writing and college career. Or so I thought as I calmly left the room, holding back tears. My teacher, who was a stickler for grammar, had counted a few too many grammar mistakes and had done away with my paper on that basis.
To say I was mortified is an understatement. I spent the next few papers proofreading like a madwoman. I even braved a few peer reviews just so I could pass that class. In the end, that teacher’s feedback was the best thing that could have happened to me. Not only does the post-traumatic stress of that encounter force me to quadruple-proofread everything I write, even emails and texts, it forced me to seek help from others that, until then, I would never have sought out.
Sometimes we need to be criticized.
Not everyone will like the work we produce, and someone might even give it a big fat “F” (metaphorically; don’t we love metaphors in writing?). Although our reaction might be to crawl under a rock, if we can turn that criticism into a productive technique that improves our writing, then is it not worth it?
Additionally, the more rejection we face, the more desensitized we become to the embarrassment of it. When we let ourselves be criticized, there is almost always something we can learn from it, making it a positive experience instead of a negative one.
A safe place to start is with someone who understands your fears and is able to handle you with a gentle touch. Perhaps begin with a friend who loves to read or find a small writing group to join that regularly shares their work with one another. If that doesn’t help, you may have to have your heart broken by someone like that frank and direct teacher who will give it to you straight. As long as you know that neither way is intended to hurt you, but to help you improve your abilities, then you will be able to find your way to a better piece of work.
Once you have “practiced” getting feedback from a safe, critical source, it is time to open yourself to the criticisms of the real world. It will not be easy, but the best way to build up a skin against it is to experience it.
Be discerning about taking in criticism by learning to identify feedback that is meant to be helpful versus what is unconstructive, mean-spirited, or simply invalid.
Unconstructive criticism is something that is purely hurtful. Someone telling you they do not like your book is not helpful and is merely one opinion in a sea of other more positive ones. However, if a critical source finds a negative about your writing and offers a positive, productive option for solution or a new perspective that leads you to a resolution that is true to your story, then that negative criticism becomes constructive.
Negative criticism can be helpful even though we usually do not want to hear it.
Absorb and process the helpful, honest, and true, and ignore the rest. Or use it as an opportunity to stand firmly by your work, either internally or overtly, depending on your style and personality. Criticism, both “bad” and “good,” will always allow you to grow as a person and an author.
With permission from Dr. Eric Maisel, The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! (2011) was the inspiration for this post.
Bonnie Snow was an intern with Around the Writer’s Table, working toward a graduate certificate in publishing and editing while in her senior year at Florida State University. She is inspired by the editing field’s penchant for helping others see their dreams realized. It’s important to Bonnie that the art of editing come, not only from refining writers’ works, but also in understanding the vision that authors wish to impress upon others and fully supporting them in their fulfillment of their purpose and passion.