criticize |ˈkritəˌsīz| verb [ with obj. ] 1 indicate the faults of (someone or something) in a disapproving way2 form and express a sophisticated judgment of (a literary or artistic work)
I was listening to a podcast by Joyce Meyer about criticism. Not literary criticism, but other criticisms we may receive in daily life.
Criticism is tough to take, especially if it isn't given nicely. But Joyce Meyer made a great point: criticism, if given in good faith and with kindness, is like free coaching.
That really resonated with me.
I thought of it this way: when my kids do something wrong and I gently correct them (not criticize them negatively), I'm coaching them on how to be decent human beings. Just like my mom used to coach my siblings and me on how to watch our language and do the right thing.
As writers, we're subject to literary criticism all the time. First with our early readers, then with agents and editors, and finally with readers.
Here are my thoughts on how literary criticism can be effective as free coaching:
- Is the review/critique given with good intentions? Is the criticism just mean? Is there any meat behind it, or is it just harsh words slung out there to demoralize? If criticism is given with the intention to help the writer, it can be received as free coaching.
- Is the review/critique given with respect? Is the critic using respectful words? Tone?
- Does the critic understand the difficulty of having their work criticized? Writers know how difficult it is to have our work filleted and gutted by others. The writers who've criticized my work (at my request!) have all understood how it felt to have their work critiqued. Their ideas were given with respect.
- Can the critic offer a better way to approach the problem? One of my favorite things about having my work critiqued is the back and forth that takes place with my beta readers. One might highlight a section because it bothered her. She'll explain why it stood out to her, but she won't stop there. She'll offer ideas on how to fix the problem. How I handle it is up to me, but I truly appreciate the brainstorming.
- Is the writer coachable? If we feel as if we know it all, forget about it--we won't learn a thing. If we feel as if our writing is above criticism, forget about it--we'll struggle to grow. In real life, and in the writing life, it's important to remain coachable. There's always something new to learn.
Sometimes our greatest growth takes place when we offer ourselves up for criticism. For this "free coaching" to really be effective, it's important that we're open to alternative opinions and new ideas. And we must remember that it's our work being critiqued and reviewed, not us as writers. Those lines become blurry at times, yes?
How do you handle criticism, in daily life and in your writing life? Can you list any other ways that criticism can be viewed as free coaching? Any tips you can offer on how to remain coachable?