“Critique is the foundation of art school education, and learning to make constructive use of it is one of the most difficult and important lessons to absorb. Look at your own work, and the work of others, as dispassionately as you can. Being defensive or hurt, while a natural reaction, will not help you improve your work. Learn the biases of your instructors so that you make the most use of their comments. Disagreeing with criticism is not wrong, but unless your work succeeds on its own merits in the eyes of your instructors and peers, resistance may not be constructive or helpful. Be brave under fire.”
Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White
This applies exactly to creative writing, which by its very nature means being published. Today, as well as being published in books, newspapers or magazines, that may mean self-publishing and blogging online. Wherever you publish, assuming you are writing to be published, other people are going to read what you write. They will have their own opinions about it – about the content, the style, the imagery, the characters – often strong opinions which may take you by surprise. And it’s not just the newspaper and magazine book reviewers who may criticize; there are the comments of readers at Amazon and Goodreads, and book bloggers on WordPress.
It is natural that the first instinct is to be defensive, to be protective of your work and characters, with whom you have spent so much one-to-one time. Letting them out on their own, vulnerable to the opinions of others, is a step which all published writers and journalists must take. I had this fear knocked out of me 30+ years ago when I trained to be a journalist [below]. My copy was subbed, rewritten and critiqued so many times by my editor, my peers and my training editor, not to mention the magazine readers, that I quickly developed a thick skin. It was that, or dissolve.
I took a lot of creative writing classes when I turned from journalism to fiction, and observed many students react with tears or anger, sometimes both, when other students commented on their work. I understand the emotions. Sometimes the feedback was roughly given. But we are not living in the real world if we expect everyone to like every word we write, every character that is so precious to us may make others turn heel and run. Life is full of critics.
So I developed a strategy to cope with the feedback, no matter how insensitively given. I made the decision to accept all feedback gratefully, no matter how much it made me grind my teeth. Sometimes, a day later when I was calmer, I could see some sense in the comments. So I learned to write notes, take time to cool down, re-read the criticism later and decide which bits to ignore and which bits to learn from.
‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy now
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Learn to accept criticism: applying the rules of #art to #writing via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-O1