And Stop Worrying so Much About What Others Think of my Work
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t have huge ambitions to become an author. In college, I was a double major in literature and communication and entertained ideas of being a journalist.
But as a literature major, I was required to take a creative writing class. I didn’t dread the class. In fact, I was looking forward to it. I liked writing stories in my spare time, but I wasn’t very confident in my abilities. I didn’t think I was good enough to call myself a true creative writer.
And yet, in that creative writing class, I was required to be a creative writer. Throughout the semester, we read some stories and poems, but mostly we wrote. Short stories, poems, essays, all of it. And the class culminated with a larger, finished piece of our choosing.
I decided to write a creative non-fiction piece about an experience from my childhood. I poured hours into that piece, writing and rewriting, crafting better sentences than I thought I was capable of. And in the end, I had a piece that I was truly proud of. That I thought was actually good.
But writing the piece wasn’t the end of the assignment. The second part required printing enough copies for the entire class to read, and then listening to the other students’ thoughts on my piece.
When the time came for my piece to be put on trial, I was nervous. Here I had spent so much time creating something I truly loved. I wanted others to love it too.
The Day I Learned True Criticism
So for an entire 50-minute class period, we sat in a circle, my printed copies on everyone’s desks, and my piece was critiqued. And me? I was required to sit in silence, listening and taking notes.
Several students liked my piece, complimented it. But many more found things to pick at. This sentence was awkward. That paragraph didn’t belong. The main character’s actions didn’t make sense. I sat there fuming, wanting to defend my writing, but I couldn’t.
After the class, I was required to take the students’ comments and notes and rewrite the piece to try and make it better. At first, I was resistant. My piece was fine the way it was! Not just fine, great even!
But as I went through the student’s notes, I realized there were areas that could be improved. And while I didn’t agree with all of their critiques, some of them were valuable and when I implemented them, they really did make my piece better.
Finding the Value in Criticism
Looking back on that experience, I am so thankful that I was exposed to this type of criticism early on in my writing career. Because as a writer, criticism is everywhere.
Not everyone is going to love what you write all the time, and you have to learn to be okay with that. Especially online, where people can share their opinions with no consequences, you may have to face some harsh words about your writing.
In my professional life, I have had to cope with criticism almost every day. I work as a copywriter, and every piece of content I write has to go through multiple rounds of approval, often from several different people. By the time the content is finalized, it can sometimes look very different from my original piece.
If I was still so afraid of criticism and so attached to my original writing, like I was when I first took that creative writing class, I wouldn’t get anything done today. I also probably wouldn’t have a job.
Especially when you’re writing for someone else, you have to give up some of the control over the writing. You have to learn to pick your battles and kill your darlings. Because you don’t have the final say over the content.
You Are Not What You Write
In your own personal writing, it’s a bit different. A lot of the time we’re writing from the heart and we’re writing on truly personal topics. An attack on our personal writing can feel like an attack on ourselves.
But when that happens you have to separate yourself from your writing. It’s easy to think of your writing as your baby. But once it’s finished you have to send it out into the world. You can’t babysit your writing all the time. At some point, you have to let go.
No matter how personal your writing, you have to detach yourself from it. You are not your blog post. You are not your novel. You are not what you write.
How to Appreciate Criticism…and Eventually Love It
Once you’re able to detach, you’ll be able to see criticism for what it is: advice. When you take a step back and are open to others’ criticism of your work, you may find that it will help you in the long run.
Feel like you can’t accept criticism? Here are a few reasons why criticism is so valuable:
1. You may see your work in a new light. By accepting criticism, you’re getting a second set of eyes on your work. Because you’re so close to your work, you may be blind to some of its potential issues. But someone else may be able to point out to you what you are unable to see on your own.
2. Your work may get stronger. As a writer, every day I try to learn new things and improve my skills. If you aren’t open to new ideas, you’ll never grow or improve. Listening to others’ opinions may show you how you can create better, stronger work.
3. You’ll develop a thick skin. Whether you’re a writer or not, at some point in your life you’re going to encounter criticism. You can’t expect everyone to agree with you or what you do, and you need to be okay with that. You also need to know when to tune in to someone’s advice and when to brush it off. It’ll make you a stronger, more resilient person, which will be beneficial in all areas of your life.
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