Everyone’s a Critic

Criticism is a part of life everyone has to deal with. Parents criticize their children and children criticize their parents. Teachers and students give the back and forth. Friends criticize each other. It is something with which everyone is familiar.

And yet…

Writers are the victims of criticism. This isn’t because they receive more than others. Some may, some may not. This is because a writer is already inundated with crippling self doubt. Some may say that they are not, but the truth is that they just haven’t experienced it yet. Whether it is an area of concern (“I know my dialogue isn’t great”) or the sting of someone else pointing out your flaws, the writer feels…exposed.

Most people have some kind of self-doubt. Writers, we are filled to the brim with it. That’s why it is so hard to show our work to others. Either they tell us what we already know (this needs work = you suck and you’ll never be good enough), or else they lie to us (I like this part = I need to find something nice to say, even if I don’t mean it). Okay, so most of that is in our heads. Which is why when I share my writing, I like to share my first draft. I know it sucks. I know it needs work. I know it’ll never get published.

But I also know that it can only get better. I also know there are some good bits in there, however few and far between they may be. And I also know that I can learn from my first draft, from both the mistakes and the golden nuggets. It’s so easy to be pulled down into a cesspool of anxiety, so don’t sink there. Start there.

I teach, and whenever I have a student absent I will put a zero in the gradebook. It’s electronic, so not only does it update automatically, but the student has access to it. Some of my students struggle, so when they turn in work that is less than stellar, it hurts their grade. This often causes them to turn nothing in. I found out that if they start at zero and turn in something that is only worth 50%, they see that actually working toward a goal isn’t a bad idea after all.

The same can be said for writing. What you put out there may suck. I’m currently revising a novel I finished back in March, and it sucks. But as I revise, it’s getting better. If I gave up, I’d have nothing. Leonardo da Vinci once said that art is never finished, only abandoned. This might sound depressing, but it’s not. Because you are constantly improving. So, please, don’t stop writing. I won’t. I can’t. But I will get better, and I hope you do, too.

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