Would-be writers are told time and time again to develop a thick skin in preparation for the numerous rejections they will have to endure before they achieve any iota of success. For me, this is probably the highest bar to entry that I’ve come across in pursuit of my ambitions. I don’t have many talents of which I’m unflinchingly confidant. Hell, even things I know I do well still require ridiculous amounts of fine tuning before I’m willing to send them off into the world. Being told that writing was not something I had a talent for would be devastating.
I am not a person acclimated to taking criticism well. There could be any number of perfectly reasonable explanations for this, but as the internet isn’t large enough to hold a comprehensive listing of all my various neurosis, let’s just say I have a tendency to take criticism as a personal affront to my competence. Having my notes edited for spelling errors when I was a kid probably didn’t help.
This is not to say that I consider myself above reproach or think that I’m always right, quite the opposite. I live in a constant state of alertness under the belief that people are watching my every move and just waiting to swoop in and point out my shortcomings. In some regards I’ve developed a stream of coping mechanisms to deal with this sort of rejection, but only with bigger overarching issues.
For example, if I spell a word wrong or abuse the oxford comma and someone calls me out on it I have no problem correcting the problem and moving on. These are mistakes I expect to make because typos happen and commas are basically my indentured slaves. I am far less accepting of subjective criticism when it serves no purpose outside of making the person who pointed it out feel proud for having caught me in a perceived mistake.
Certainly it is better to have one person bring my attention to an error than to have that same error go unmentioned until it is publicly displayed for everyone to see. Nobody wants to be wrong, but when people use their opinion on how I should be doing things as a basis for calling me out I tend to get stabby.
I should probably warn you that if you’re looking for a blog about dealing with criticism and learning from it you may as well look elsewhere. I know that the term ‘constructive criticism’ was coined for a reason, but I don’t expect to discover any short cuts for accepting it with grace and poise by the end of this article. This is a rant, and as such its only purpose is to serve as an outlet for those of us who are tired of the nitpicking nags who would see us held down whenever we try to raise ourselves up.
Now, I understand that criticism is a necessary evil. Nobody is perfect and when you attempt something there is a good chance you’re going to make some mistakes. This is good, you need to make mistakes so you can learn not to make them in the future. If they aren’t mistakes you can find on your own then you need someone else to give you feedback and let you know how to improve. I get all that, I really do, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to immediately roll over and accept that your way is correct. This is doubly true if I don’t agree with your assessment.
Great art comes from knowing when to break the rules and sometimes doing something differently than convention calls for is the best way to get your point across. Often when I solicit feedback on my writing I’m not looking for a rundown of my errors, I’m looking for affirmation that I managed to get my point across. Errors can be easily fixed, but flawed execution or faulty reasoning is a far greater offense in my eyes. Not everyone makes this distinction, probably because writing isn’t always considered an art form.
There are no museums (that I know of) for masterfully executed sentences or well developed characters and plots. It’s not because these things don’t exist, but because those who do not write don’t understand how difficult they are to achieve. I know that at some point I’m going to have to suck it up and send my manuscript out into the cold harsh world of editors and agents. I know that this will be a difficult time and that I will have to learn to adapt to accept criticism of my work. I’m not looking forward to it, but I get why this bar to entry exists.
I just hope that when this time comes I can find a way to remind myself that criticism is intrinsic to having created something. That even though it might be hard to accept the opinions of others in regards to my work, I have already proven myself just by creating that which did not exist before me. The nagging nitpickers can just go ahead and suck on that.