Something I’ve noticed about the writer’s world is people who fall within this realm tend to treat their writing much differently than those who don’t. They take it seriously like a musician or an athlete take their music or performances. Because like a musician’s song or an athlete’s performance, a writer’s work is like their baby. Something they’ve placed days if not weeks or months into to perfect (well relatively speaking–all writing can be improved), agonizing over every last detail and worrying how others will react upon the first encounter. Then the mother writer releases their baby writing out into the world to be either welcomed or mauled. A week’s or month’s work that can be torn down in mere seconds. No pressure there.
Those who don’t wish to be the next bestselling author or award-winning journalist most likely don’t feel quite as much is at stake–not to say they don’t want to do go a good job, but dispassionate writers probably don’t stress out over using the “right” metaphor for love or which details to include for a dreamed up character’s backstory. Actually I don’t know if even the serious writers do that, could just be me… The point is an individual’s stance on writing influences how they’ll react when faced with the task as well as how they evaluate written works.
As an English major and lover of words, suffice to say I perceive writing as a very serious matter. Sometimes too serious (I once spent seven hours writing a two-page paper. I wish I was kidding.). I put a lot of thought into my work, whether it’s a paper or a journal article or a blog post, and it shows; I’m organized, argumentative (in a good way, hopefully), and always make an effort to include my “writer’s voice” if the situation allows. When I’m brave enough to share my work at school, I usually receive lots of vague “Omigosh, you’re writing is so good!!!!” comments. While that’s great for building my self-esteem and instilling confidence in my writing abilities, this sort of feedback tells me nothing about what I can do to improve my writing.
I do attend a liberal arts school so I take a lot of classes that don’t directly pertain to my field of study and subsequently I work with a lot of individuals who aren’t English majors. And that’s totally fine–I’m all for major integration! So my class of biology, math, and exercise science majors spends the day critiquing each other’s work and the only things anyone says about my writing is “it’s good.” Okay, where does that leave me? Let me tell you accepting negative feedback becomes realllllly difficult–especially when those negative comments come from professional writers.
Recently, I received a writing-based job in a field I had not previously worked before but was eager to try out. Coming from a journalism background, I innately treated my first few assignments like feature articles, incorporating extra details and smooth transitions (often referred to as “fluff”) to make for a more interesting piece–everything I had been told I was good at. While this is perfectly acceptable when whatever I’m working on demands that I grab the reader’s attention and entertain while inform, it is less recommended when trying to remain neutral and professional for a large audience. Basically, I learned not all writing has the same rules.
When I received my first few articles back, I saw red. Literally! That furious red font my supervisor uses to note her feedback pretty much annihilated whatever I had written on the page. Granted not all of the red was bad–there was good feedback too–but the overall response stung. I had never received negative responses on my writing before, of any extremity. But ultimately, I’m glad. For the honesty. For the fact that my boss took the time to explain her comments and guide me through the next few drafts until my articles were finalized and published. Because someone cared and was honest (okay, maybe she’s required to care), I learned about different writing styles and how to apply those to my own writing; I learned how to improve. That’s all I had ever really wanted since deciding I wanted to be a writer.
Now, several months later into my position, I’ve gained a lot of constructive insight on my writing, but I know I still have much more to learn. By no means have I grown deaf to all negative remarks on my writing–my baby–but I am learning to cope with the idea not absolutely everyone will always 100 percent love my writing. Though I had a rough beginning with my writing for this job and still continue to have rough days here and there, I will be forever grateful for this first, real curve ball from what us college kids like to call the “real world.”
To answer my title question of “Where would I be without criticism?,” I’d say probably a lot more happier, but also much more naive. As previously established, getting your writing–or anything you love, really–literally or metaphorically torn apart can feel like the world is ending, at least momentarily. It’s difficult, but I advise you, dear reader, to work through it. Work through all those flustered emotions and trial-and-error periods, and show the “real world” you’re not to be totally decimated but its criticism. Where would YOU be without criticism? I don’t know, I can’t speak for you. But I can say that with negative commentary, you’re going to become a better writer/musician/athlete/whatever-you-want-to-be because of it.
NOTE: I am not in any way trying to demean biology, math, exercise science, any non-English students and their writing abilities. I was simply attempting to make a point, and referenced these areas of study at random.