Constructive Criticism: Analyzing the Article or an Assessment of You?

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.

excess baggage 2Self-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.

half empty half full street sign 2It 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.

advice cartoon

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.

 

Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing

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19 comments

  1. Marilyn,
    I love this post as well. I think so many of our reactions to criticism are rooted in fear, because we have put ourselves out there so to speak. When you pour so much of yourself into a piece and then someone criticizes it, it can feel personal. But if we take a step back and think a bit on it, pulling our emotions out of it, usually we find some validity to the words spoken. Then we can get better…and be thankful for insights that we ourselves are blinded to because of our personal connection to our own words.

    Like

  2. Marilyn – I see I neglected to mention how valuable the content in your article is! It spured some thoughts on constructive criticism and being a critic – so I followed that rabbit trail.
    I know your heart is to help Writers and those in recovery – and if/when you offer constructive criticism – it is done with so much grace I have always interpreted it as encouragement!
    Thank you for both your informative posts and encouragement!

    Like

  3. My view on criticism relates largely to old baggage, old hurts, and old wounds. People have been told they are not good enough from an early age, put down rather than encouraged. Most people succeed in spite of criticism. I agree critique is as much about finding positives, or points of agreement as it is finding fault. In the world today there are too many people that will ostracise you because you say one thing they disagree with. They forget the dozen things you agreed with them about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Peter. We all have baggage, old hurts, and wounds. Yet, writers are supposed to be thick-skinned and not react. Where is that writer?

      You are so correct about the forgetfulness of people. I had a guy in my group say, “You only criticize.” I had to remind him that in the 9 months he’s been here, all other comments were positive. He thought for a minute and then said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

      Thanks for your comment and additional perspective.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I think it’s only natural that when we’re criticized, we feel it personally. I find that I take criticism much better from someone I respect, especially if I feel like they know about the subject they’re offering criticism on. Plus, never discount those years under your belt. You’ve earned them. Loved the article Marilyn.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Great post. I particularly liked Terry’s sandwich method and will try to use that.

    This is where being part of a critique circle is so valuable. Especially if it’s one in which you’ve been a member for some time. We each give and get praise and criticism. Or as the old saw goes: “some days you eat the bear; some days the bear eats you.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you are so right Mary Jo – I think criticism is much better received when we are in a community of others we know have good motives and our best interest at heart and it is balanced with praise. Let me know how the sandwich method works for you! My friend sharing that with me really was an eye opener for me. 🙂 Of course, I should have added I mostly used it with my kids – there were times where I had what could delicately be described as a failure to communicate – okay – I lost my temper 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Mary Jo. Or some days we’re the windshield and next, the bug. I’ve felt squashed by criticism before and it’s never comfortable. But it does help if I know the person and realistically figure out their intent.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  6. Thank you for this Marilyn. To me there is a difference between constructive criticism and a critic! There seem to be quite an abundance of critics that I have seen absolutely tear into a new bloggers post and many I have seen do it to seasoned bloggers. I feel this is inexcusable. Then there are people who know how to gently suggest or direct and we can get valuable feedback from them. I learned from a friend years ago about the sandwich method – which I used for many years successfully with my kids – as well as other areas of my life! Always start with what the person has done right, then tactfully point out the area that could/needs improvement and then end with something else the person has done right/or that you appreciate about them or their work.
    I love the method and it seems to work well 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      • Hi John – I don’t think I would have much to critique on your posts – they are wonderful as they are!
        But yes, no one likes to be ripped to shreds nor should they be, As Marilyn and Colin pointed out there is a skill to offering constructive criticism. I say if you don’t have that skill – don’t do it! And don’t do it – if you haven’t been specifically asked’ 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Marilyn, I learned a valuable lesson many years ago. When I received criticism, I thought it was a direct attack on me. What I learned from that experience was my experienced teacher saw potential in me. He made me realize it was a particular skill he wanted me to excel at. Sometimes pointing out a weakness can be upsetting, but if you want to be good at something you have to pay attention. I like my constructive criticism one on one. Thank you again for your wisdom. John.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. A great post here, and hugely important for writers especially. We spend a lot of time on our own as writers, buried in our little worlds, talking to people we created. It’s a very personal thing.

    However, want also interests me is the skill required to deliver constructive criticism. I was a Drama teacher for many years and I spend quite some time teaching my pupils the art of critique. The focus was about how to build the other person, never just to bluntly criticise in a negative way. If anyone was to be the “Simon Cowell” it would be me – but only because that was my job, and I had the experience to do it objectively, switching Devil’s advocate on and off at my pleasing – or rather, as was necessary for the pupil/group.

    I absolutely agree with your point about the purpose of critique, and that is what angers me most about “critics” who often seem dead set of just being a self-interested smart arse who likes their own writing too much. I used to have a lot of banned phrases:

    “I’m sorry, but…” – this was banned, because if you need to apologise that means you intend to offend.
    “In my opinion…” – we weren’t asking for your opinion, we are asking for your critique…they are not the same.
    “I don’t think…” – well, you should…
    “No offence, but…” – if you genuinely mean no offence, you don’t need such a preface.
    “To be honest…” – does that mean you were lying earlier?

    And so on. I had these rules because I wanted my pupils to learn to be as confident about their ability to critique as they were to write, perform, or evaluate. One of the main tools I used then, and still insist upon now, is rather than commenting ON someone’s work, making the “critical friend” pose their thought as a question. I believe this makes the criticism more palatable, and more intellectual than emotional. A well worded question should pose thought and consideration for the writer. It also could be that the reader’s point is entirely relevant, or it might expose the fact that they weren’t paying enough attention when reading. More importantly, it might alert the reader to – for example – a subplot that they thought was strikingly obvious simply isn’t. If several readers pose the same questions, or something similar, that could alert the writer to a gap in the communication between writer > story > reader.

    Over all, I think a big problem is that people presume that a critique is the same as giving an opinion. The latter is easy, the former is not, and takes skill. If a writer genuinely wants to develop, they need to ensure that their critics have t he skills to help them. It is as useless having blank, loyal praise as it is to having bitter, personally attacking negativity.

    …to be honest, in my opinion, that is!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Colin. Those banned phrases are wonderful! I may have to borrow one or two if you don’t mind. Thank you for adding so much to the overall post. I appreciate that!

      Liked by 1 person

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