Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Criticism = Free Coaching

criticize |ˈkritəˌsīzverb [ with obj. ] indicate the faults of (someone or something) in a disapproving wayform 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?


  1. That's a great way to look at it. I am always open to what my critique partners say and I try to learn from negative reviews. I know some authors won't read reviews, but I want to know what I did wrong so I can correct it in the next book.

  2. I look forward to the crits I receive on my work because I know it's going to help me make whatever I've written better. I do think I take criticism better on my written work than in other though...ahem.

  3. The key when giving criticism is to present it in a constructive, helpful manner. This goes for writing crits as well as any aspect in life. If it's given in a way that is degrading to the recipient, why should they receive it positively?

    In writing, I have experienced harsh crits twice. I am a very understanding person and desire to move forward in all aspects of life. But honestly, I took those crits more personally for me as a person then toward my writing. It was crushing on a personal level. That is never productive. On the other hand, I've had amazing crits that pointed out the positives in my writing, which gave me the extra verve I need to become a better writer. We really are all in this together. :)

  4. I do tend to internalize criticism, even if it is given nicely, and beat up on myself. But then I pick myself up and try to improve myself as a result of the helpful advice, even if it wasn't said as nice as it could be.

  5. I think accepting that we're not experts goes a long way in accepting criticism. I know many writers are better than I am. And if more than one reviewer says the same thing about one of my books, I know they're probably onto something.

  6. That's a good attitude and approach to take. I take it from my crit group and editor fine. My skin is thicker than it used to be, but has a way to go yet.

  7. I love Joyce Meyer's advice too, Julie!! She really brings things down to practical. I do admit to having a bit of a time with criticism. I think it is because of how I was treated in high school and also with an abusive ex. I'm getting better. I know the critiquer is not being mean or out to get me. I know they're trying to help. But I still have to back away for a day or two from a crit and let things process. I have to trust myself not to hack apart my story because of the crit as well. I've done that in the past, I know that's part of why I'm still not published. These days, I'm learning to listen to my writer's voice. I know not everything I write is perfect but it's not all bad either. I'm hoping this makes a difference in how I approach things in the future. We need trust between us and our crit partners, an important step in getting to where we all want to be: published and more importantly, read by others.

  8. I think taking criticism takes practice. I think SOMETIMES even mean criticism can be helpful--it depends on if it gives you something to work with to improve. And I think sometimes well-intentioned just doesn't help--someone doesn't understand your genre or something. It is always good to consider it though. Giving it, I try to be constructive and kind--frame it in a way that makes it easier to swallow.

  9. That's the positive way to look at things!
    Unless you've naturally got thick skin, I think things like this take a little bit of patience before one can truly appreciate.
    Great post!