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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts On Taking Criticism

These last few days have put a lot of interesting thoughts into my head, particularly on the issue of how to take criticism. I consider this to be a writer's best skill aside from talent, because how you react to what others say about you or your writing will have an influence on how you are perceived by others, and will say a lot about who you are as a writer. Take my recent discussion and criticism of self-publishing and the dozens of responses there (some of which have been removed by one of the authors, which I have saved primarily because they were interesting, particularly in this discussion here).

What is interesting about that particular post are the kinds of reactions taken against what I wrote: some were relatively calm and collected and were more interested in debating the issue, some were vehemently opposed, so much so as to make personal attacks, and then there were some who seemed to be unclear on how they wanted to react, deleting posts or generally making rude comments and then attempting more rational discussions elsewhere (and these are general observations, not hints at particular individuals)

There is only one individual who has had any useful impact on me in this discussion. This person has acted in a way that I think should be a model for people in that particular industry (with some minor exceptions, which are mostly irrelevant). Instead of attacking me personally for my criticisms of an industry s/he ardently supports, s/he debated me on it, seemingly attempting to get at the crux of the issue. To be fair, I find myself agreeing very much with this individual on many points, and disagreeing with her/him on others, and s/he seems more like the kind of person that could change my mind on the issue of self-publishing than many of the others that have been a part of the discussion. Why? The mostly level-headed approach and the ability to tackle the issue without resorting to reducing discussions to the I'm-high-and-mighty form, or feeling the need to make unsubstantiated claims of validation, etc.

And this is interesting, because it says a lot about how this individual was able to take the criticism, and how writers should take criticism in general. The reality is that no matter what kind of writer you are, you are going to get criticized. Even great writers get hit with negative comments. They either shrug them off, get irritated and blast the critic, or let it consume them from the inside out. And published, successful writers have exhibited all of those reactions; some of them get away with the more nasty comments, and others don't.

Those that react negatively, who attack or let criticism consume them, are those who probably shouldn't be attempting to write publicly in the first place. It hints at an insecurity, a deep fissure within the self that suggests how mutable an individual can be in the face of a negative comment. And reactions do have weight on how one is perceived. I think, here, of the Cole A. Adams story, in which an author got so upset about being criticized that he basically goaded the critic into committing suicide. Obviously that hasn't happened here, but there certainly have been some bitter, angry individuals who have seen fit to make personal attacks instead of either ignoring the criticism or tackling it in a more level-headed manner. And like Mr. Adams, these aren't people I could see myself ever working with, even if I were more interested in the industry they support.

But I don't suspect most of them care about that, much like Mr. Adams probably doesn't care that a lot of people no longer want to work with him (or maybe he does). The point is that criticism doesn't go away because you get upset about it; it remains, always. But if you can't take the criticism, why be in a particular industry at all, whether it be music, acting, or writing? You can't avoid it unless you keep yourself private and never let your work be viewed by people who may potentially criticize you for it.

But maybe it's just me. Maybe it's okay to react in the way that some authors have in the past. What do you all think? Where do you draw the line between acceptable behavior and acting childishly?

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  1. If it helps, I quite enjoyed our little debate on Creative Writing Majors.

    Informed and professional on both sides.

  2. I enjoyed it too. Been meaning to respond again, but busy with blasted finals and stressed out a bit with moving, sick geckos, etc.

    But I agree. The debate was good :P. No immature actions taken by either side for sure.

  3. When I give criticism, I do it constructively (eg. "I didn't understand passage A very well, perhaps you could clarify it by adding onto X and cutting Y?") This why, the author knows where the problem is, and has some suggestions on how to make it better.

  4. Actually you are speaking out to particular people. I deleted my original comments to you because I have a hormonal imbalance and was in the middle of a hormonal meltdown when I responded and some of my responses were insane and arrogant. I personally don't want to come off that way when people randomly search my name on the internet.

    And secondly your original post was very offensive. It was full of generalities and just plain rude. I've pointed out to you before that in the comments section you seem to come off a lot more reasonable, but your original post was the type of post likely to insight massive irritation and replies that match.

    I'm not really sure why you're so obsessed with this topic.

    You aren't self publishing. So why does it matter so much to you? And why do you keep rehashing it over and over?

    You just seem unwilling to let the topic die. It's just got to go on and on.

    It would make more sense if you were actually considering self publishing yourself, but since you aren't, I fail to see why the issue has anything to do with you at all. And why you just won't drop it.

  5. Further, when talking about criticism, your original post that caused so much hubbub wasn't criticism, it was insult. They are two different beasts.

    If it had been constructive it would be one thing, but there was nothing constructive about it, it was simply mocking and inflammatory.

  6. SparklingBlue: Agreed. Constructive criticism for writing is useful.

    Zoe: If you don't like what I have to say, then stop visiting my blog, stop commenting, and stop reading. Plain and simple. Getting up in arms and ticked off over something like a blog post is really pointless. If I were actually trying to ban self-publishing, then sure, get pissed off, but I'm not, and never would.

    The problem seems to be that you assume that what aren't generalities about yourself must therefore not necessarily be generalities elsewhere. This isn't true, never was true, and likely never will be true. If it were true, then things would be changing. They aren't. The Internet, at best, has simply given a place for SPers to talk. The numbers of good ones aren't going up, they're just being heard by more of their kind. Good things, sure, but not indicative of some magic change in self-publishing. It's not like all of a sudden all the good writers came out of the woodworks and started SPing.

    And my points were only rude because I was criticizing YOUR industry. If it had been criticism for something completely unrelated, I highly doubt you ever would have commented.

    Criticism need not be constructive. I don't have to tell you how to improve the industry in order to criticize it. Constructive criticism and regular criticism are entirely different things and equally valid. If it was perceived as rude, that's not necessarily my problem. I can't control what your perceptions will be. I can only highlight my intent, which was never to be rude, just to point out reality. It may not be a reality you like, but it remains a reality nonetheless. If you thought it was mocking and inflammatory, then you didn't actually read the post, or the comments. It's okay, though, because that's unfortunately how the Internet works.

    And I'm enjoying myself, so I'll keep talking about this so long as I find joy in it.

  7. SMD then stop talking about me on your blog. Stop mentioning my previous posts in comments or my attitudes or anything else. You stop talking about me and I'll stop reading and posting. I don't think that's unreasonable.

    You are assuming a whole lot about me that I've never said. I have never said those generalities weren't true about some people. But what is the agenda behind the post? What is the point? Saying a lot of self published work sucks isn't exactly a newsflash. Nor is it a public service announcement.

    You and I are like oil and water, and I shouldn't have commented again here, but hey, you mentioned me, not by name, but it's not hard for people to search back to see who you're talking about.

    I think you find joy in bizarre things and could spend your time far more productively but that's not my business. Why not just create something productive on your own, rather than tearing other things down?

  8. Nobody would have assumed I was talking about you until you came in here and said "you were talking about me." I kept your name out of this particular post on purpose (with exception to the mentioning that an individual deleted their posts, which was you and wasn't even hard to find information). There were a lot of people who had particularly stern disagreements with me in regards to the SP post.

    And this is my blog. I'll talk about whatever I want here. If you don't like it, that's not really my problem. I'm sorry if that sounds rude, but you have the option not to post here. It is not mandatory for you to read my blog, nor for you to comment, nor for you to even engage with me. If you don't like what I've said here about SP, about conduct, about whatever, you have the choice to argue with me, or you can go on your way. The fact that you keep coming here and posting doesn't bother me.

    And I do create on my own. I have this blog and I write. It's not like I'm sitting around bored. You may find it bizarre that I enjoy the debates, but that's just how I am. I like arguments, I like contentious or controversial topics (even if this one really isn't all that controversial or logically contentious). Writing this stuff isn't due to a lack of things to do productively. I've got enough projects on my plate to keep me busy, and my blog is one of them.

    There was no agenda behind that particular post except to highlight reality. That's it. If you don't have a problem with that, then I don't know why you needed to ever comment in the first place.

    People got a rise out of it, so clearly something was said there that people didn't like, that has some newsworthy reality to it (even Writer's Digest wrote about this very topic only a short time ago, with very similar opinions).

  9. Whatever, SMD. I don't enjoy it, and I don't enjoy being misrepresented. But I'll leave you to it. I wouldn't have known about this post if someone hadn't linked me to it. I am now about to email the individual and tell them not to inform me of your posts again.

  10. If that's what you want to do, then go for it. Have a good day and good luck with the writing.

  11. Group hug?

    Or is it too soon?

  12. I'm up for a group hug. Can we sing campfire songs too?

  13. Anonymous6:25 PM

    ... Did you seriously just write a post on this? The person who takes criticism SO BADLY that he now has no one willing to edit for him?

    You are the biggest and worst kind of hypocrite.

  14. Wow, what's with all the hate? Didn't we just group hug???

    Just because someone may or may not be thin-skinned, does not mean that they cannot meditate on the subject on their personal blogs.

  15. Ellira: I actually have people who still want to critique my work. The person who used to do it got a job (loopdilou), so her time was divided quite literally between work and her children. And to be fair, her kids and her livelihood were far more important, understandably, than my fiction.

    Jordan: Why thank you :P.

  16. Ellira: On a side note, I'm not really all that bad at taking criticism. I certainly have work to do, and I admit that, but I've drastically improved. My issue when it comes to criticism of one's fiction is almost always one of presentation. This post really wasn't meant to deal with that, though. It was meant more towards the issue of general criticism that may or may not pertain to one personally.

  17. Dude, I have no idea if you're thin-skinned or not. I rather think you aren't.

    My point was that you don't have to be an Olympic gold medal winning wrestler to teach wrestling.

  18. Jordan: Well that's certainly true. I don't consider myself to be the end all be all, or maybe I do, but I suppose learning from one's own flaws helps a lot.

  19. I do that all the time. Luckily I'm blessed with have a lot of flaws to learn from.

  20. Anonymous2:54 PM

    So's he, he just doesn't. He pretends to.

    And I have a huge problem with him posting about how important it is to be able to accept criticism, and slamming people who don't, when he's the very worst at it. I don't think much of Ms Winters, but she sure as hell doesn't deserve to have him preaching hypocritically at her like this. The original post's discussion was fine, but this is taking it too far.

    Besides, I didn't take part in the group hug. :p

    Not that bad at taking criticism ... yeah, sure.

  21. Ellira: I wasn't even preaching to Zoe. That was a general statement about how people act. I don't run around making personal attacks on people just because they say something I don't like. That was my issue.

    People make mistakes and learn from them. Some people make mistakes that they don't have the opportunity to learn from. I learned from my mistakes and grew thick skin. You might think otherwise, but you'd be wrong :P, but something tells me this discussion will be taken elsewhere, since it pertains to some things not spoken of here.