One skill all writers need to have is the ability to accept constructive criticism with a smile on their face. It wasn’t easy for me when I first began showing people my stories and poems. Of course, I was still in high school then and I’m fairly certain teenage angst was partly to blame for my defensiveness.
But as I grew older – arguably wiser – I began to see criticism for what it was: valuable feedback. Speaking for myself, I find it difficult to read my work with unbiased eyes, especially when it’s something I’ve been working on for a while. I’ve read and reread it dozens of times, tweaked it a thousand times, and I can no longer see it from any standpoint other than that of an exhausted writer.
Allowing others to read your work and give you honest feedback is difficult, and I’ve known many aspiring writers who couldn’t handle it. They think that what they’ve written is pure gold, and to back that up they will tell you that their mother, boyfriend, sister, or roommate agreed. That isn’t unbiased, that enabling. When a fellow writer gives me a piece to read, I read it for pleasure first, then re-read it to look for flaws. Constructive criticism is a valuable tool but it doesn’t necessarily have to be heeded. All criticism, constructive or otherwise, is in the eye of the beholder. What one person loves, another will hate. But it’s still important for the writer to take any and all feedback into consideration.
There was an incident that occurred while I was in the Creative Writing Program at Florida State that still resonates with me. There was a young woman in one of my writing workshops, her first, who had turned in a decent story to the class for review. I don’t recall the exact premise, only that it was a good idea, but the story needed work. The dialog was stiff, the descriptions “flowery”, and the narrative was choppy, jumping all over the place. When it came time for the group to give feedback on the piece, the instructor asked the young woman if she had any comments before we began. She replied, “My story is just fine the way it is. My roommate read it and thought it was great, so I’m not changing a thing.”
There were a few moments of awkward silence, then the class went forward with the review while the young woman tried to ignore us. She ended up dropping the workshop the next week.
Feedback is essential, whether you agree with it or not. It gives you the opportunity to hear how readers respond to your work and can provide you with options you may not have considered. Most beginning writers have a hard time accepting criticism, but once you realize it – and learn how to swallow your pride – it can be of immense value.