Creative works are hard to create. Writing, painting, photography, drawing, sculpting or anything else creative you do – they all require dedication to create. They require that you pour so many parts of yourself into the work that you’re revealing parts of yourself.
And this is why criticism can be hard. When someone says they don’t like your creative works, it can feel like they’re saying they don’t like a part of you. Logically, that’s fine. Not everyone is the same and not everyone likes the same thing. But it hurts more when the criticism is of your works because you’re already in a an anticipatory state about your creativity.
I liken it to layers of your skin. The thickest part is waiting on the review of your creative works. This leaves only small layers of skin below. All you need is to be tired, or something else on your mind, and the criticism of parts of your work that you relate to just pierce that last little layer to jab you right on a sensitive part.
Of course, learning to take criticism is part of creativity, just like it is of life. I’ve been lucky in the jobs and study I’ve done that I’ve had lecturers and bosses who are fair and genuine with constructive criticism, which helps a great deal.
But then you’ll come across people who just don’t seem to have a supportive view on criticism. Or you’ll hear advice you just don’t agree with, regardless of who it comes from.
I took a scriptwriting class as an elective in my undergraduate degree. One of our first assignments was basically an outline of the screenplay we were writing for the class. My review from my tutor was really less than favourable. My story idea was effectively called boring and the tutor made a range of suggestions to ‘spice it up’. Apparently my characters weren’t keeping big enough secrets from each other – the underlying themes of sex for power and relationships amongst the characters wasn’t good enough. It was suggested that they have something ‘more interesting’ like drug dealing going on.
Now, from memory, this tutor was beginning to work commercially in Australia as a scriptwriter. I have no doubt that what he was telling me was to be more commercial.
No matter the intention, it just didn’t sit right with me. That was not the plan in my head about how my story would develop. It felt cheap & nasty. I had the plots and relationships entwined in my head and I could see how I would reveal each character’s flaws, strengths and secrets. And then I was told that was boring.
Maybe the limitation of the assignment didn’t allow me to explain the complexity very well. Maybe I didn’t know how to explain the complexity. Maybe the tutor had his own bias in what he found interesting. Maybe I did too.
The story is still one I’ve kept. It’s one of the ones in my ‘one day’ basket. I’m unsure if it would work best as a novel or a movie though. The most important part though:
I decided it was interesting.
And in the end, you have to write something you like. Yes, there are audiences to consider, but if you hate what you write, I believe it shows.
How do you deal with criticism as a writer? Do you take it to heart, or consider if you want to listen to it or not?
16 Replies to “Criticism As A Writer”
I like that Stephen King quote – I think it’s his – or is it Neil Gaiman – can’t remember…
But it’s this – if someone says something is wrong with your story, they are probably right – if someone tells you how to fix your story, they’re probably wrong!
I actually hadn’t heard that before…I like it! Thanks 🙂
As a stubborn, smarty-pants lady I find criticism very hard to deal with. However, writing fanfiction DID help me to learn the difference between constructive criticism and unhelpful negativity, both the giving and receiving of feedback. I try to remain open to critique, and remove myself from the emotion/love I have for my project, and really look at it objectively 🙂 Otherwise you feel like you’ve been stabbed through the heart! I have been lucky though, haven’t had any really negative or cruel comments lately, which is nice considering the growing horridness of the interwebs!
Fan fiction was a great educator! It improved my spelling and grammar as well, because the site I published on wouldn’t approve stories until they were pretty much flawless in those areas.
I think being a smaller blogger really helps to fly under the radar of negative comments!
Thought you might be interested in this youtube made by a newbie filmmaker, think he makes some good points!
Great video! I wonder if it’s easier for filmmakers to distance themselves from criticism since it’s such a highly collaborative environment.
I’m not a writer but if I ever attempted to be I’m sure the rejection and criticism would make me give up. You’re still writing and you haven’t given up on your script despite the criticism. I think that shows that you’re passionate about writing.
Or incredibly stubborn 🙂
To me it depends how the criticism is portrayed. If it’s said in a bitchy, you’re writing sucks then I take it with a grain of salt. However if they are willing to give me pointers on what they liked and ways that I can improve on that, then I am willing to take it into consideration. When I was at school I had a lot of trouble putting feeling into my words. We had an autobiography piece in grade 11 and my teacher at the time said it felt like he was reading a newspaper article about the event. That is something that I am aware of in my writing now, even 10 years later!
To me when it’s just a stylistic difference, then it’s not criticism, it might just not be for you…that’s what I kind of think happened in the uni class.
Interesting. I don’t write stories, but do find myself often pausing when writing my blog. What if that is not written right?…
I remember before my sister launched our website in October, telling her how nervous I felt.
Because I was sharing a piece of me. What if they don’t like it? Me?
I have become to realise as long as I like it it is fine.
Good like with your writing….
Liking it yourself is by far the most important part!
Criticism about something you’ve created or written in so hard because as you say, it’s a part if you. It’s so personal. I just always remind myself that everyone is different and has different tastes. Funnily enough I’ll often show an important report or blog post to my husband or mum for feedback thinking its brilliant and they either think its “meh” or have a few suggestions. I don’t bother to change a thing, happy that it IS actually brilliant and it’s just that they aren’t my “Bob” (demographic/ client/customer) so it’s no wonder it doesn’t appeal to them. See, it’s not me, it’s them 😉
I guess that’s where constructive criticism is important – to remove the issue of preference a little.
Being fairly new to writing I’m open to constructive criticism. What I don’t appreciate it when someone re-writes whole sections rather than demonstrating how I could improve aspects of my writing. In effect it becomes their writing.
Totally agree with you that you need to be passionate about what you write. Getting constructive feedback to help you improve it rather than re-write it is where I see the value of ‘criticism’.
I agree – re-writing doesn’t teach you anything.