By: Marilyn L. Davis
“I suspect that most authors don’t really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every fifteen minutes or so.” ― Neil Gaiman
The Functions of Feedback
One type of comment is the Critical Comment. I started thinking about how to write a follow-up article on my way to my recovery support meeting; a monthly group that I facilitate.
With the addicted population, many things can happen in a month, so the likelihood of someone doing something self-destructive or risky for their recovery increases. In other groups where we meet twice a week, we process minor obstacles quickly, and they do not become major hurdles.
However, in both groups, there are times that either group members, or I, give constructive criticism. Using what I know about effective, yet respectful, constructive criticism from groups seemed like a natural follow-up article.
Why Does Constructive Criticism Bother Us?
Most of us have some reaction to constructive criticism; however, depending on these three factors, there can be different emotional responses.
- The level of Self-confidence
- Old Baggage, Hurts, and Wounds
- The Status of the Critical Person
For instance, an individual is relatively new to something, recovery or writing. There is naturally a certain amount of insecurity in the ability to do it well. Therefore, there is probably a lack of confidence, and if criticized, it confirms those insecurities; it creates discomfort so the individual justifies the actions or the writing, or it can produce a defensive tit-for-tat response.
Suppose a person tried recovery or writing before and were not successful. Then a relapse, an article was rejected, the page views dropped for that article, or there was constructive criticism of that piece.
Self-doubt, fueled by additional constructive criticism and the individual emotionally reacts, not solely to the criticism, but from the old baggage, hurts, and wounds combined with this new criticism.
In addition, there will be those who are in a position to judge: a counselor or an editor. They can decide if the actions are productive or self-defeating, or if the article meets publication standards or a rejection notice.
Each of these individuals, perceived as an authority, can say or criticize in the same manner as someone else; however, it might carry more weight.
If you get criticism in your comments, see if you are reacting from any of these other emotionally charged perspectives, old wounds and hurts, or your excess baggage, and respond accordingly.
Sensitivity to Criticism
Recently, I wrote an article on curiosity and writer’s block. One of the comments gave information that I had not explored. In other words, someone added his or her knowledge to the comment.
They had valid information. Rather than take offense, I simply thanked them for reading the article and then adding to the theme. I did not spend time berating myself for leaving these out, nor did I justify why I left them out in my response. It is easy to mistake this kind of addition to our articles as criticism that we are imperfect or that our information was flawed.
It is rather like the pessimist and the optimist, or the person who sees the glass as half full vs. half empty. It is a cognitive distortion when we only focus on the negative and do not evaluate it with the other comments, or accept the truth in the comment.
I also got a comment that people did not want criticism; they only wanted compliments. I responded that I was not everybody, that I valued both compliments and criticism, and that I would appreciate helpful suggestions on how to improve my articles.
Granted, not everyone is open to this type of critique; however, we cannot expect to improve if we do not allow our work to withstand the scrutiny of others.
- Will everyone like what I write? No.
- Will everyone give me a compliment? No.
- Are there some who offer genuine and helpful critiques and constructive criticism? Yes.
What is Constructive Criticism?
When critiqued by others, we learn a lesson. Criticism is not just finding fault. It can simply be someone’s opinion of how to do something differently based on his or her knowledge or experience. It can be a guide to having articles accepted, not rejected, or another writer giving us various sites that will improve our next article with different images.
An additional reference of criticism is: Considered judgment of, or a discussion about, the qualities of something, especially a creative work. This is the act, or art, of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, or a dramatic production.
It was interesting that writing is a specific reference; therefore in writing, we have entered an arena that makes criticism the norm.
How Do You Give Constructive Criticism?
One way to balance your criticism of someone’s behaviors or articles is to check your motive for the critique. If there is the slightest bit of jealousy, envy, anger, or any negative reaction within you towards the individual, do not comment at that moment.
I am not referring to your feelings about the subject or topic; I am referring to the individual and article writing. Certainly, if you have strong feelings about the subject, then what you are commenting on is more specific to that subject than the writer’s ability.
It is important that you separate the two and not criticize the individual’s writing abilities if they are correct.
Motives for the Constructive Criticism?
For instance, I am an “old woman”, and we were discussing relationships in a recovery group. I was discussing the pitfalls of early recovery relationships. Not directed at anyone in particular, however, a 20-something said to me, “You are criticizing my relationship because you are too old to get a man.” Whew.
However, it did make me think. Was there any jealousy in my motive for criticizing early relationships? After satisfying myself that there was not, I quickly had to regroup and explain that I had my fair share with three marriages, and that I was not jealous.
We then processed that I had strong feelings about the subject of relationships; moreover, they were the second greatest drawback to continued recovery, and my criticisms of them were that in early recovery, they took the focus off the individual and put it on the relationship, often leading to relapse.
With a heart-felt disclaimer on my emotions, and apparently enough to satisfy that client that I was not criticizing her, just the subject of relationships, we got back on track.
How Will You View and Receive Constructive Criticism?
Your attitude about constructive criticism is important. In my recovery group, I asked someone if they would prefer that I never gave them constructive criticism again and just let them continue making the same kinds of choices they usually made.
This individual thought about it a minute and then said, “Well, no, I do not know how to remain in recovery, so I guess I’ll have to listen differently and not hear it as, ‘I am a loser.’”
We were then able to process that it was not just the constructive criticism that he was reacting to, but all his other disappointments and seeming failures in life that fueled his reaction. With further clarification, he was able to see that he was the one being harshly critical of himself with his comment about being a loser.
We writers may not have all of those emotions going on, however, we can sometimes be thin-skinned and react in a similar manner in either our responses to constructive criticisms in a comment, or silently staring at comments on the screen.
I have referenced my love of quotes as inspiration in several articles, as well as my Muse Bulletin Board. Prominently displayed is this quote from H. G. Mewis, “A true artist removes his heart willingly, allows constructive criticism to stomp it, then puts it back—bruised and aching—as he continues to strive for excellence due to the all-consuming obsession and love for his art.”
This quote not only gives me directions, but also reinforces our philosophy at Two Drops of Ink. We not only write here, but we encourage other writers. If you’re ready to submit – and have us comment – gently of course, then take a few moments and read our submission guidelines. Thanks.