01 Aug

Having someone tell you that something you did is less than perfect really stinks!  This is especially true when that something is important to you, a thing that you truly love to do and want to do well.

Unfortunately, the only way not to receive criticism is to keep your work all to yourself. If you don’t “put yourself out there,” no one can tell you that you did anything wrong. Your feelings will not be hurt, you will not be embarrassed, and you will not feel like a failure. You will also never improve. You will be stuck making the same mistakes, and you will continue to see things from the same point of view, never learning, never growing.

For example, I have this friend—we’ll call her “Katie”— who has always loved to write. In her senior year of high school, Katie worked up the courage to ask her English teacher to read her latest creation, a story about a nerdy girl who falls in love with a very handsome and much cooler guy while spending the summer with her grandmother in California. The English teacher’s comment was as follows: “That’s a nice story, Katie. You’re a good writer. But nothing really happens in the story. There is no conflict.”

I—I mean my friend—was devasted to hear this. Katie honestly and truly thought that she had written an amazing story and that, while there may have been few little things she could improve, the story was pretty close to perfect. To hear that her story lacked a plot and was pretty boring was a huge blow. Maybe she wasn’t as good a writer as she thought she was.

It took me (yes, I was Katie) a long time to overcome my fear of criticism when it came to my writing. For over a decade I continued to write because I loved doing it and I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. But I didn’t show my stories to anyone or talk about them. I knew they weren’t that good, and I didn’t need anyone telling me what I already knew. I didn’t want to hear the criticism.

Then one day I was talking to my sister-in-law about something—I don’t even remember what—and I started telling her about the plot of the novel I had decided I was going to write and try to publish, my New Year’s Resolution. She listened in rapt attention as I described it to her, and she urged me to send it to her as I finished each chapter. So, I did.

That small step gave me the courage to enter a writing contest where each participant received a critique from three published writers on the first twenty pages of their story. Like my teacher’s comment on the lack of plot and conflict in my story, the critiques I received were eye-opening. This time, however, instead of shrinking from the feedback and going into hiding, I forced myself to look at my writing in a different light. My writing was not perfect, and neither was I, but there was hope. I could learn and improve, and I would. But I couldn’t do it alone. I had to get help from those who had already been through it and knew more than I did. I had to open myself up to criticism, and I had to accept it with grace and an open mind.

I still don’t like to hear that something I have written is anything less than perfect, and I still go through the five stages of grief every time I receive negative feedback on my work. But I like to think that I get over the negative feelings relatively quickly now so that I can get to the part where I accept the criticism and use it to grow as a writer and as a person. I recognize now that without that criticism I would not be where I am today. And for that I am truly thankful.

* The email will not be published on the website.