22 April, 2015

Handling criticism

Especially handling criticism of your writing.

A few weeks back a former colleague wrote to me, criticising my writing, especially my blog writing (not just a grammar mistake, but something far more serious).

Now I'm not looking for your sympathy or reassurances by telling you this, nor am I going to reveal what it is that she said. However, I do want to think about how to handle such situations. Because they happen. To anyone. You don't have to be a writer, you could be a musician or run a kids club or organise a party. Whenever other people see something that you've done, you are open to criticism.

I don't like conflict. One of the things I dislike about parenting is the conflict it brings into our home. But dealing with the criticism of things I do for other adults is hard. However, a few years of magazine editing and being in a supportive writing critique group has toughened me up a bit. It's also given me a few strategies.

When the above situation happened, it was the usual crazy, after-school time in our house. So I didn't have much room for self-pity or dwelling on the situation. 

As I read her message I felt a rush of adrenaline and my first desire was to defend myself and my writing. My second was to go back and edit the post I'd uploaded that day. I acted on the second desire.

Then, I messaged the lady back and asked a clarifying question (admittedly there was a little defence going on too). She urged me to read back over my blog and see if what she said was true. So, as time permitted that afternoon, I did. I couldn't see what she was seeing and I told her so, in as pleasant a manner as I could. 

But I also asked two other friends who often read my blog to check it too. I felt I could rely on them to be honest with me. Because she'd suggested that something had appeared in my writing that I didn't want there. So I'd moved on from a purely defensive mode, to an analytical mode. I wanted to take anything I could of value from this feedback.

That's the place you want to get to when you are criticised. You want to be able to pull back enough to analyse the situation and see if anything is true about what's been said. It is good to get other people's perspectives too. If you can ask someone who's willing to be gentle, yet honest to give you feedback then that is by far the best option.

At the end of the interaction with my former colleague, I thanked her for getting me to check on this particular aspect of my writing. I didn't agree with her, but I was gracious about it (not easy, I know, this was easier because it wasn't in person). She was gracious in return. I'm grateful for that.

Here are a couple of other articles about handling criticism. Both relate to writing, but I think there are things to learn for all of us.
How to handle criticism of your writing.
How should writers and editors work together?

How have you handled criticism of things you've created or done? Can you give us some other tips for handling criticism?

Here's a post I wrote three years ago about this topic: Not taking offence, rather grow.


Judie said...

Our Repertory Theatre Society holds a one-act play competition for which I entered this year.
I asked several people, as different as possible, to give me feedback. They said lovely things, but also helped me clarify some background stuff which, as the one who made up all these people, I knew but hadn't conveyed.
The thing was that, in this case anyway, I wanted to win the competition, so I was happy for anything bad to be pointed out. I'm rarely in that state of mind.

Wendy said...

Yes Judie, it isn't easy, especially when you didn't ask for a critique. Unfortunately once you have something published or performed, it is out there for anyone to have their say.