How to Handle Criticism Like A Pro

How to Handle Criticism Like A Pro

Writing this isn’t easy. I keep typing and deleting, then typing and deleting some more. I never used to be this way; I was so confident, so self-assured, in my storytelling abilities. But now, each time I craft a sentence, I imagine what the commentary from my peers would be: That’s superfluous. That’s so cheesy. What does that even have to do with your intention? So as I write (and un-write), I’m a bit unsure where intuition begins and fear ends.

As a current student in graduate school for writing, I will ultimately be working in a creative field where criticism inevitably comes with the territory. My classes are mostly in a critique workshop format, with lecture elements sprinkled in here and there. The truth is, many of us who view ourselves as “artist types” tend to be on the sensitive side (ahem, whether or not we’d actually like to admit that to ourselves is a totally different thing!) and we often prefer to shy away from criticism whenever possible.

However, it’s also very important to realize that criticism is something that should actually be embraced, because it can be used to our advantage in so many ways. So while I can pretend to know what my classmates would say and then feel insecure about it, what actually matters most is telling the story that’s in my heart so that I can encourage you to be able to do the same. In my experience as a writer, I’ve come to find that the following three methods can easily turn you into a feedback-receiving pro, no matter what field you’ve chosen to go into. Most importantly, they will help you to take a more objective stance, which is essential to counteract the undeniably subjective nature of criticism (as well as to prevent yourself from crying, let’s be real here!)

1. Know how to determine “constructive” versus “destructive” criticism.

Here’s a good hint: constructive criticism should make you feel inspired, whereas destructive criticism will make you feel like a crybaby (you’re not, though). The first sounds a lot like, “Here is an area that can be strengthened and here’s how you can go about it,” whereas the latter sounds like “You’re not good, sorry.” When you set your ego aside and maintain an “I’m willing to improve” mentality, constructive criticism will make you a better person. Destructive criticism is more of a verbal sucker-punch, a malicious or emotionally unintelligent comment without offering any possible solutions for future improvement. We’ve all been the recipient of both of these types at one time or another. Getting truly helpful feedback, though, is so important; it’s how we learn and grow as individuals in every aspect of our lives: career, relationships, you name it. Take good care of yourself by ignoring anything that’s said unless it’s constructive.

2. Decide which elements of what you’ve been told actually have merit.

Not every aspect of feedback you receive is going to seem like a very good idea. Trust your gut on this one. Unless your job/grades depend on it, remember that it’s more than okay to have a “your life, your rules” approach: you get to decide which ideas work for you and which you’d rather leave on the sidelines, maybe for a later time—or maybe for never! Think of the process of using feedback like it’s a collage (or even a cocktail if you’re feelin’ fancy!): play around with different suggestions and see which combination will make for the best fit. Sometimes you may find that the people providing you with criticism hold conflicting opinions, and it may very well be up to you to decide whom you agree with. Try to have fun with it—it will make the process far less painful!

3. Consider the source.

Woah, hold up now! Is this person even qualified to gift you with their ~*majestic judgmental commentary*~? Be wary of some well-intentioned folks who have no idea what they’re talking about. If someone tells you to change something, yet is unfamiliar with the craft, it might not be a great decision to blindly follow their advice. Sometimes, though, there can be ironically a surprising benefit to this; on occasion, you may actually try to purposefully seek out those who have no experience to get an “outsider’s” opinion. In my case, I often ask people to read my short stories, novel chapters, essays, and poems who have no writing background whatsoever. If you’re in a creative field, what can often matter even more than advice from the experts (!) is the opinion of the audience. Whether or not you’ve got yourself an appreciative bunch is the deciding factor of what works and what doesn’t.

Do you have any other favorite “go-to’s” when it comes to handling criticism? Let us know in the comments below to share the knowledge/spread the love!

[Photo by Katie Serena.]

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