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
A Function of Feedback
One type of comment is Critical Comment. I started thinking about writing a follow-up article on my way to a recovery group that I facilitate every month.
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, which do not become significant hurdles.
However, in both groups, there are times when 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, because it applies to writers, too.
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, if an individual is relatively new to something, recovery, or writing, there’s a tendency to feel insecure or question their ability to do well. Therefore, there is probably a lack of confidence, and if criticized, it confirms those insecurities, creating feelings of discomfort.
Sometimes when we feel uncomfortable, we start justifying our actions, or writing. Unfortunately, this can start a tit-for-tat dialogue or comment.
Suppose a person tried recovery or writing before and was not successful. Then a relapse, an article was rejected, the page views dropped for that article, or there was constructive criticism of their recovery method or the post.
Self-doubt, fueled by further 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.
When an Authority Criticizes
Also, there will be those who are in a position to judge: a counselor or an editor. In one case, the counselor decides if the actions were productive, and in the other situation, the editor decides if the post is published or rejected.
Each of these individuals, perceived as an authority, can criticize in the same manner as someone else; however, it might carry more weight.
If you realize you’re reacting to someone or something from your past, process this 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 thanked them for reading the article and then adding to the theme. I did not spend time berating myself for leaving this information out, nor did I justify why I left out further details 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, but it’s about how we process comments – the pessimist or the optimist – half empty vs. half full.
Compliments are Only Part of the Critique
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 others’ scrutiny.
- Will everyone like what I write? No.
- Will everyone compliment me? No.
- Are there some who offer genuine and helpful critiques and constructive criticism? Yes.
Why is Constructive Criticism Valuable?
When critiqued by others, we learn a lesson. Criticism is not just finding fault. It can merely be someone’s opinion of how to do something different 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 provide better images for our next post.
An additional reference to criticism is Considered judgment of, or a discussion about the qualities of something, especially creative work. It’s 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 adverse reaction within you towards the individual, be mindful if you comment.
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 issue, then what you are commenting on is more specific to that subject than the writer’s ability. Try to make your comment, if it includes criticism, about the topic, not the writer’s ability, unless the writing needs some constructive criticism.
Motives for 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. At that point, a twenty-year-old with a toxic relationship 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. This response satisfied the young man, and took the focus off the individual and put it back on relationships that often lead to relapse.
With a heartfelt disclaimer on my emotions, and apparently enough to satisfy that client that I was not criticizing him, 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 the exchange, 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 harshly critical of himself with his comment about being a loser.
Writers and Recovering People React
We writers may not have all of those emotions going on; however, we can sometimes be thin-skinned and react similarly 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. One that helps me deal with constructive criticism is:
“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.” H. G. Mewis
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