Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Taking Criticism.

Jumping links today, I found this question at Mely's (coffeeandink) blog, which goes, How do you get better at taking criticism? What tricks do you use to make yourself listen?


It's early, you know. Early. This looks like a way to wake myself up.

I've never understood the problem people have with criticism, really. It's not that I think you should ignore editors or people who give you feedback, because it's usually a case by case kind of thing. There are times when you're better off ignoring these people, especially if you have a lot of people giving you feedback. Writing by committee has always been the idiot's way to write, and if you require ten people to tell you how to write, or to make you 'publishable', then maybe you ought not to be bothered writing prose. Take up writing scripts and making films. Yet, with that said, some times you're right to listen to the criticisms you get, because they can point out a really obvious flaw that you missed, open you to a new concept, whatever.

The part I've never understood is where people take it personally, where people get upset, because someone didn't like your work.

The thing about criticism is its not personal. It's not about you. The moment it is about you, if the person giving feedback starts to make judgments about your person, then it's time to lift that finger, call them a cunt, and walk away. They're useless if it's personal. Likewise, if the criticism is about them, same response. You're more likely to get the second than the first, because a lot of bad criticism you'll get are from people who want to remake your work into something that suits either their needs, their own desire to write, or their own politics. Occasionally, you'll get all three. And if it's about you, if they're not able to see the difference between the opinions/attitudes/whatever voiced by a character, and that they don't necessarily reflect you, well, like I said, useless. Good criticism isn't about you. It's about your work.

When your girlfriend, boyfriend, pet, whatever, tells you that you're a bad person, then it is about you. When they say, "I'm leaving you because you're a fucking fascist," then that--that--is about you. They're making a judgment about you. They found the naked pictures of Hitler. You're caught. This is why, when your partner leaves you, or when they say something about you that is damaging, it digs beneath the skin and stays there, because it is about you. They've gotten to know you personally and they've judged you and you know what, they didn't like it.

That's personal.

Someone saying they didn't like your story, that's just opinion.

You temper this opinion by learning not to care, by getting distance between you and your work. Consider this: Do you live in the past? Do you spend all your time sitting round, thinking of that time you won a hundred bucks on the pokies, met that girl/guy, had a few drinks, fucked, then went back home where you found that you'd won lotto? No. You don't spend every day thinking about the past, and a story you have written, it's in the past, and you, if you have any kind desire to write regularly, will be writing something new. Writing of any kind is an experience and, like every experience, if you enjoy it, you're always out looking for the next new experience, and by necessity, you have to leave your old experiences behind. Remember the old experience nicely, sure, but you understand they it is always in the past, that it is done, and that any comments that come back do not reflect upon you anymore, because you finished living that experience. You're on a new one. You've got a bit of objectivity, maybe.

You do that, and criticism is really easy to take. You look, you think, and if the opinions go along with what you're thinking, then good, and if not, toss them.

You'll notice, by the by, how I didn't mention anything about liking criticism.

Everyone would rather nice words, would rather hearing that they're brilliant, though you can't really trust anyone who tells you that last, I reckon. Likewise, viewing this doesn't mean that you have to be confident, or even arrogant in the quality of your work. I like positive thoughts, I like to think positively about my submissions, but the truth is, I expect them to come back rejected, and if published, I expect people to hate the piece. I even have a bit of confidence about my work, in as far as I am confident in my ability to do something, and be reasonably satisfied in my continual growth. If this all seems like a mess of contradictions at the end, well, yeah, of course. How else do you live your life?
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