Writing

Taking criticism…

I had a bad experience this week when someone wrote a stinging critique of some of my work. I usually take criticism well, as I can’t be perfect all the time and it’s good to know what others think.

This was different. It seemed to be a complete misunderstanding of the point I was making, converted into the reviewer’s own views on the subject I had written about, which were opposite. These were then framed as a ‘I’d be much better at producing this work than this person’ sales pitch.

This was very disappointing, as I respect this person very much and would love to have had the benefit of their views on my work instead of them attempting to get my commission for themselves, which they didn’t manage to do in the end as the editor was as disgusted as I was.

The whole episode made me think about how we can diffuse the sting in the tail of critique:

1. Remember that it is the work that is being reviewed. Your work is not you, it is your creation, something separate. It’s not personal. If the critique is personal, then it’s not constructive and not worth reading.

2. Any critique, good or bad, is an opportunity for learning. Deconstruct it and take out the main points.

3. You don’t have to take the advice of a reviewer; it’s your decision as you own your work. If the changes recommended mean extensive revision and loss of original ideas, make sure you consider the impact on your concept.

4. Recognise and respect the reviewer’s viewpoint. There will inevitably be many different positions to your own on any subject, and it’s valuable to know them.

5. Understand that some reviewers have a game-plan; if the piece of work is in their field or work area, the review could be based on wariness of competition.

6. It’s tempting, especially if this piece of work contributes to your livelihood, to retaliate directly to a negative critique. Don’t. This is only one person’s view. Use the experience to think about your reaction to negative critique.

My experience this week helped me to remember the big picture and how the industry works. I was able to think through my aims and refocus my work intentions, and understand better how ruthless even those at the top of their field can be. Perhaps that is how they got there?