Ok, so I have waited a good six months to write this post because I not only wanted to distance myself from the situation but also the person that inspired this rant. Today I want to talk about the difference between criticism and constructive criticism because, as an artist in more than one field, it is something I deal with on a continual basis. Sometimes it is from other readers, critique partners, editors, agents, publishers, or even other writers.
If you are going to put yourself out there in an artistic manner, criticism is going to be a part of your life–obviously. However, my issue with the whole idea of criticism revolves around one specific experience I have had as a writer and a few others afterwards.
About six months ago a writer friend expressed that they no longer wanted to be my friend, because after reading my book and after having several writing based conversations they felt as though I was too sensitive of an individual to take their criticism or advice. They also felt as though I was going in a different direction with my writing than they wanted to be associated with. Ok, that’s their prerogative. However, what bothered me about this and several other cases of criticism that I have had during the course of my writing career is the accusation of being too sensitive.
I am a very sensitive person, this is true, however I–and most people–will take criticism personally. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, I can take–no problem. Why? Because there is a HUGE difference between the two that I think those who dish it out don’t understand or take into consideration. So, when their criticism is met with hurt feelings then they get annoyed and answers like my friend’s are produced.
Criticism is nothing more than another person’s opinion. It is often tangled up with their feelings, motives, and pet peeves. This is why I really don’t pay much attention to it when it is given for other works of art. Reviews are nothing more than someone’s often nit picky opinion. You can’t please everyone, so there is no point in trying. However, because it is personal to them, it is also personal to me. Therefore I am going to react accordingly. Wouldn’t you?
Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of that. It is helpful, insightful, and designed to help you and your work improve. It doesn’t need to be sugar coated in order for it to be effective, it just needs to be valid.
A good example is a friend of mine who offered to edit one of my books. She was worried about whether or not I could handle criticism (I’ve had lots of people ask the same question, in general). I replied, “Yes, as long as its constructive. I don’t need you to sugar coat or coddle me, but I do need valid examples.” She did exactly that. Sure, there were moments when some of the suggestions she had were more of a personal nature to her preferences and I took those with a grain of salt. However, all of her advice and guidance was backed up with examples on not only why something wasn’t working (from a technical perspective) to how I could fix it.
See, that is the difference folks. If you are going to criticize someone’s work, be prepared to back it up with a solution. The friend who helped me with the edits is someone whose knowledge I value and respect. I’m 100% creative and 100% crap at the technical stuff when it comes to writing. I know where I need help and I knew that she was basically giving me the cure for the cancer of my faults that was killing my story.
Also, in case you are wondering why I used the picture of the oh-so-handsome and talented Richard Armitage for this post, the reasons are two fold. One, that look he is giving is the same one I want to give those who criticize me in a personal manner or call me too sensitive. Two, he always brings a smile to my face. 🙂