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How to Take Criticism (Or What Not To Tell Your Critic)

I decided to write this as both a rant and an advice blog, due to partially being fed up with certain people who believe that they can pick and choose criticisms as well as getting slightly agitated with the belief that criticism should be soft by some users.

I’ll set this up this way: You, and the critic.

“Valid” criticism vs. “Invalid” criticism

Invalidation because of Belief

For crying out loud, do not pick and choose criticism because of “belief as an author that this and this shouldn’t be changed”. The only thing you’re doing is making your critic really annoyed. They are a reader. They’re not just sitting there telling you “You have some backwards phrasing and an awkward paragraph there” in order to change the story to how they like it; they’re trying to help you make it better. You can’t sit there and expect someone to continue constructively criticizing stuff if they tell you two things and you only do one.

That’s like when your mom reminds you to feed and water your puppy that you took the responsibility to take care of and begged her to keep, and you decide you’re only going to water him because you believe he doesn’t need food. Tad bit ridiculous, is it not?

When you sit there and tell your critic that they aren’t validly criticizing your story, you’re basically telling them they didn’t read it the same way you wrote it and that they should. They aren’t supposed to read it the same way you “wrote” it; they’re supposed to read it and base it from the rules of literature. They give you their opinion, why they gave that opinion, and what the problems with the story is.

A critic may be similar to a teacher in that both care about your skill. But a critic is NOT your teacher. They aren’t here to make you feel happy and achieve your personal goals. They’re here to make you improve by taking your product, dissecting it, ripping it apart, tearing it up and finding every little error, making a judgement, then throwing it back in your face. A critic is supposed to DIMINISH your “beliefs as an author.”

Invalidation because “This FAMOUS author does it!”

This is probably the most agitating thing I’ve heard from any number of people I’ve given criticism to.

“Stephen King spent 15 paragraphs describing a shoe, so why can’t I?!” Stephen King is also a billionare who’s been writing since the 1970’s and somehow finds a way to accomplish writing best sellers when he stops story progression for the next nine pages. You are not.

To sit there and use a famous author as evidence for why a criticism is invalid is simply agitating to the critic and makes you look in their eyes more like you’re trying harder and harder to “one-up” them and tell them they have no idea what they’re talking about. I tend to get fed up when I sit there and consistently tell someone something and then they say something to the effect of “WELL FAULKNER DID IT! VONNEGUT DID IT!”

The thing that is lacked by this argument is understanding that 1: These authors are much, MUCH more skilled than you are, and 2: Famousness doesn’t equal quality.

Invalidation because “It’s Your Opinion!”

No. Fucking. Shit.

But the opinion is also correlated with facts. The critic looks through and analyzes your story. They take time doing this not for fun. Not so they can sit there and tell you it sucks just because.

On the same note, think of it this way: If a critic has an opinion of your work, chances are a quite a few users are going to have the same opinions.

On top of that, if you invalidate criticism by saying it’s the critic’s opinion, you’re spitting in the face of the critic. They are trying to help you. They are trying to make you improve your writing using their opinion.

White Knighting

For crying out loud. Whenever someone I’m criticizing gets white knighted, the first thing I think is “What the fuck.”

Not only are you serving to get in the way by invalidating valid criticism, often through the same methods mentioned above, you’re forgetting that the critic is not the bad guy. They aren’t trying to bully the criticee into submission. They’re trying to help them. Most critics actually care about a writer’s skill and strive to help them improve.

Don’t mess that up.

Taking criticism

Everything before now is how not to treat the critic. Now, we are going to go on to preparation against how the critic will treat you.

First off, try not to have an opinion on your story. If you do, make sure your opinion is shit. That way you are susceptible to criticism. You can improve because when a critic tells you “Your story was crap, here’s what’s wrong with it and here’s how to fix it,” you won’t sit there and say “OH YOU JUST DON’T LIKE IT FOR X, Y, and Z!” I'm saying that honest criticism is knock you off your high horse if you honestly think your story is extremely great.

For another thing, do not sit there and insult, rant or rave at the critic. You do, and if they didn’t tell you their real opinion of the story, sugarcoated it slightly, they’ll most certainly tell you now, and they’ll be criticizing to destroy, not criticizing to assist. It’ll still be constructive, but it will be much more aggressive.

Don’t think that the critic cares about the feelings you have for your story. They don’t. Being silly like that is just going to result in you getting hurt and not feeling the criticism on your story, but yourself. Basically, you’ll be taking it wrong.

Disregard the useless comments on your story, good or no. Just because your story is good doesn’t mean it’s immune to critique.

Don’t even try to think that criticism should be nice, soft, gentle, silly, or funny. It can be downright aggressive, harsh, insulting, even stunningly depressing. Doesn’t mean it isn’t constructive. I generally forewarn every user who asks me to criticize their work that if I think it’s shit, I’m going to say it, and I’m not going to slack the critique.

Criticism isn’t about being nice, and it’s most certainly not what you believe is right or wrong. You need to take it, and take it, and take it all the way. Otherwise, you are serving to do nothing but cause the critic to get annoyed with you. If the critic gives up, you better hope you can do it on your own. You know why I criticize harshly? Because it provides the best results. But that doesn't mean it's not trying to help.

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