Criticism is supposed to be beneficial, it’s supposed to help you grow, but sometimes it’s just a knife attack, plain and simple. Some of the worst offenders are disguised as friends, sometimes they are relatives. They claim to be helping you – smile, smile (stab, stab).
How can you tell? How can you tell if a critic is being honest or being spiteful? How can you tell if they care about your progress or have a hidden agenda?
There are ways to tell, but first you have to stop yourself from responding automatically.
Writers are sensitive beings. For the most part, we are introverts. We put our souls onto paper, we pour our hearts into words… and then, when we think it’s good enough, when we’ve fought down our natural shyness and conquered our inner fear of being found wanting, we show the world. The whole point of our existence is to share those precious words, we are driven to do it.
But one voice of criticism and we’re straight back to looking within, searching out our inner ‘failure’, blaming ourselves – and never seeing what’s really there. We cringe, we duck for cover, we weep into our pillow or get drunk or leap off a bridge.
So, what I’m saying is, don’t do any of those things. Stop. Think. Is there something else going on here when that ‘friend’ claims to have your best interest at heart – smile, smile (stab, stab)?
First thing I ask myself is, is the criticism balanced? Did the person say something like, “Oh, your characterization is so strong, and I love your villain. This is great. Not sure about the sex scene. That first one worked really well, but the second one… can you get more oomph in it? Okay, I couldn’t get into that guy’s head and you lost me on that last dialogue bit. That needs work, but, geez, this is coming along great!”
Or did the person say something like, “Your characters are sh*t, didn’t like it at all.”
If the comments you’re getting contain only bad things with no support at all for the good – warning.
Another thing I ask myself is, is the choice of words controlling? What words are they using? Are they filling you with fear of the future if you should dare try? “The agents won’t touch this, it’s crap.”, “They’ll laugh at you”, “They’ll tear this to pieces”, “Don’t give up your day job.”
Then there is the third question. What is their body language saying? Are they enjoying putting the knife in – smile, smile (stab, stab)?
Sometimes their words are not about your work at all, but about controlling you. Sometimes a ‘friend’ doesn’t want you to change, doesn’t want you ‘different’ or ‘better’ than them, and quite simply doesn’t want you to succeed.
Yes, I’ve had critics exactly like this – people I once thought of as friends. I’m not sad about it, I’m glad I found them out – people who try to block you, to tear you down or to hamper you in any way, are not friends. Those who ARE trying to help will buck you up and encourage you MORE OFTEN than they will point out flaws.
There is genuine helpful criticism out there, but there’s an awful lot of the other sort, too, people who just want to kick the legs out from under you for reasons of their own.
So, before you accept the wounds they give you, before you dive back inside yourself loaded with blame and guilt – take a closer look at those words and their delivery and make a rational decision about their usefulness.
Once you start doing that, it’s amazing how much their damning words lose the power to hurt or control you. Suddenly, you can see through the words – and the person who uttered them – they simply can’t hurt you anymore. It’s not like you’ve developed armor, it’s more like you’ve grown not to need it. You’ve gone from delicate writer and “OMG, they think I suck!” to confident writer and “Oh really, thanks for that.”
It works. I have fun with it now. “Oh my,” I’ll say and try not to laugh. “I’ll look into that.” When they show disappointment because you didn’t burst into tears, you know you’ve scored. What’s more, they start leaving you alone – I haven’t heard from my willful detractors for ages.