Monday, 29 October 2018

The Delicate Art Of Criticism

by Charis Joy Jackson

I hate criticism. OK that’s not true, I used to dislike it, now, I’ve discovered how much constructive criticism has made me a better writer. I’m still learning and I hope I will still be honing this craft well into my 90’s. But most of all I hope by reading this, it will help you change the way you look at criticism.

Let’s be honest, none of us really like it. We want people to read our stuff and say it’s THE shining example of what the written word should be. We want to take home all the awards and praise of how amazing we are as creatives, but often we deny one of our biggest allies. Criticism.

Yes, you can receive criticism that’s hard to hear. But one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about it, is to accept it as often as I can, because it’s helping to sharpen my skill.

When we look at criticism and use our time and energy to fight what’s been said about our writing, we’re wasting our creative juices on negative actions and thoughts. We’re effectively shutting our creativity down and the next time we sit down to write, it’s gonna be harder for us to put pen to paper.

As a young creative all I heard was the negativity criticism offered and it hit me on a personal level. Now as a more experienced creative I actually understand the purpose of constructive criticism. Not just criticism, but constructive criticism.

The point is not to tear someone's work apart, but to make it stronger.

I think if more people understood the fine art of constructive criticism we'd live in a happier, more creative society. And I'm talking about people receiving it and people giving it.

The Art of Giving Constructive Criticism

Start with what you like about the writing. Talk about how it moved you. Be specific to point out things you especially enjoyed. It's ok to gush a bit about these parts. It's a huge encouragement for the artist.

Then move into areas you think could be strengthened. The more specific, the better. As a writer, I need those specifics. Especially if it's dealing with character development and the choices the character made.

The Art Of Receiving Constructive Criticism

On the reverse, if you struggle to receive criticism, the best thing for you to remember, is your work does not define you. Say it with me.

"Your work does not define you."

Your identity is not in what you do. So when you hear someone “tearing” apart your hard work, smile and remember they’re not talking about you.

If you get someone who doesn't know how to give criticism, have grace for them and take what they say with a grain of salt, because even some of the harshest critics may actually be hitting the nail on the head. Even if it isn't said the right way.

When I was first learning to receive criticism, I never wanted to listen or make the changes that were being suggested. I felt that if I did, it would no longer be my work, but a joint effort. Truth is, it's still your work and you should listen to that criticism, because you want your work to be the best it can possibly be.

If we all believed that to take on board someone's criticism made it no longer your work, then we'd never have any epic stories. There would be no Tolkien's or Lewis'. Your work is still your own.

And at the end of the day, you choose how much you take in from the criticism you receive. Use it as a tool and not your enemy.

Charis Joy Jackson works as a full-time missionary with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) a non-profit organisation in Queensland. During the day she mentors young adults, teaches on several topics including worship, intercession and how to makes movies. In her spare time she spins stories of speculative fiction and captures her crazy dreams in print. 

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  1. Thank you Charis for a needed reminder to us writers and the timing is great - seeing many of us are freshly out after conference. I found critique really hard to take at first but realised that it was a very necessary ingredient in order for my work to improve. The longer I've been a writer the more aware of I am of my shortcomings as a writer so the more I realise how much I need the words of others in helping me reach my writing goals. Thanks Charis.

  2. Hi Charis - some great tips. Criticism is hard to deal with, but as a writer, I value critiques because, as you say, it has helped and continues to help me write better. Honest feedback is gold. Yet, it's still up to me to decide what works for my story and and what doesn't.

  3. Criticism never ends. Before publishing, it comes from crti partners, beta readers, and editors. After publishing, it comes from blog commenters and reviewers.

    In all cases, I think you've hit the nail on the head (cliche alert!) with this:

    "Your work does not define you."

    If someone doesn't like what you've written, that's on them, not you (assuming the words actually say what you meant them to say. If you leave "not" out of one of the "Thou shalt not ..." commandments, that's on you. Or me.).

    We are all more than our writing. We can and should take valid criticism, but we need to remember that's a criticism of our writing, not a comment about us as people.

  4. Hi Charis, I hope you're settling in to your new patch of God's green earth. The advice you've offered here is so good. I've been able to improve many aspects of my writing thanks to the helpful and constructive criticism of people who have, themselves, learned from others. Honing our craft and our emotional tolerance make a good partnership, even if the process of 'iron sharpening iron' is a bit daunting.