The other day I was sitting in class peer marking a non-fiction article with the guy who sits next to me. Me being me, I picked apart the comma (mis)usage, and bad grammar. His response was "Wow, you're tough" as I preceded to give the paper a low grade in the technical aspect. This spurred me into thinking about the advantages, and disadvantages of critique. What better idea, I thought to myself, than to do a two part post on how to take criticism, and how to give it?
Critique is one of the scariest things for a novice writer, well actually for any writer! I can't speak for any of you, but when write I pour a lot of "soul", if you will, into my work. It's like putting a tiny piece of me on a page. You can imagine that putting your work, and in turn yourself out there for another person(s) to poke and prod at is no easy feat. You think that it gets easier over time, but trust me, I've been writing for over two years, and it still hasn't gotten any better. However, all that being said, it is very rewarding if you know how to take criticism.
The first step to gleaning everything you can from criticism is keeping an open mind. I know I probably sound like your mother by saying that (I know I sound like mine!), but it really is true. If you think that your writing is the best, and can't be improved, then what's the point of getting someone to critique your work? Our writing is like our babies, and just like parents we are often blind to our children's faults. It's extremely hard to be objective towards our own work. So when we get critique from someone it's hard to hear that aspects of our story that we think are superb are just okay to them. The initial reaction of a close minded person is to deny it, become defensive, and chalk it up to opinion. Take a look at this link, a really good example of what not to do when it comes to defensiveness. It's important to remember that the critic isn't simply pulling their opinion from nowhere (unless they're out to get you, but you won't give your work to someone like that. More on this later, though!), so it pays to check out their claims, and do your best to fix or improve the problem area. If we have an open mind than we have the opportunity to get valuable advice to improve our writing.
The second piece of advice I'd like to share with you in regards to taking criticism is this: Don't take it personally. I heard a really interesting phrase in a blog post that went something like this "Zip up your rhino suit." A rhino has hard skin, so it's basically means to not let criticism get to you. It's an excellent thing to remember. Some people aren't going to like what you've written, it's just a fact of life. There will never be something you write, no matter how good it is, that everyone will like. Understanding that is a big step to accepting criticism. However, that doesn't mean not listening to advice. Zipping up your rhino suit means that you don't stew over your mistakes, and criticism. You learn from the advice, and move on. After all, the only way to get better at writing is to write more.
The last thing I have to say on this that if you have just started writing, it's okay not to look for critique. Become confident in your work, before you open it up for others to see. Do seek critique, but not until you are sure that a bad remark of your work will not get your confidence so low you quit writing. Another thing to consider when seeking your first critique is the critic. Find a friend who isn't harsh, or extremely blunt to look at your work. Luckily, I have two friends who are pretty nice about my work, that has given me confidence. They still offer constructive criticism, so it's good system.
Lastly, ignore the bad remarks. Remarks like "you suck", or "you'll never be a good writer." Take the constructive criticism and use it, and ignore any derogatory comments that won't help. That concludes part 1 of Confessions of a Self Proclaimed Critic, so zip up your rhino suits and get writing!
P.S. Always thank your critic with respect no matter how harsh they are, it goes a long way for your professionalism
P.P.S. I added a request page for ideas and topics, check out the link in the sidebar!