Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How Do You Accept Critique?

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Time after time in my writer's group, I've seen it.

The stunned, baffled, and eventually muley look that says I can't believe y'all don't get how brilliant I am. We see it most often on a new member. Some one who says they want feedback and information on their writing, but secretly knows we will swoon with admiration the minute we hear their poetry or prose.

It's often a rude awakening to find out that most of us are swoon proof.

We are kind. We applaud the effort, but we offer--gently--truth.

As I watched the auditions for American Idol this year, I was struck again by how unprepared we are to accept honest feedback and simple critique. After being given a no by the professional judges, too many contestants begged for them to change their minds. Begged, especially in a whiny voice....Please, please, please, puleezzzeee...until *I* cringed in horror.

And had to laugh out loud when Simon or Kara asked a contestant who told you you could sing? Only to have the singer reply with 'My mom. My friends.' I wish I'd kept count of the times some one said this.

Note to creative souls....your Mama loves you. She believes everything you do is golden. And rightly so. You are her creation, after all. However, she may be just a tad prejudiced.

Just a tad.

The same with your friends. Here, though, I'll allow that most people don't know how to offer negative feedback. They don't want to hurt your feelings or damage your friendship. Telling a friend that you think they don't have a good voice or an artistic eye or a great garden plan is hard. For one thing, it is your opinion. It is likely that you are just as wrong as can be because you aren't an expert in the field. Secondly, no one wants the hurt feelings thing to follow them. Creative Souls are creative, sensitive, and artistic. In other words, we bleed with ease.

Taking the steps toward making your artistic life into a professional one demands you learn to listen to hard stuff.

One of my favorite rules in my writer's group is our 'no defending' rule. After you've read your piece for the evening, you must zip your lips and listen to the verbal feedback. No defending means not 'explaining' to the doofuses who didn't 'get' it. If you have to explain, your writing wasn't clear. After all, once your book is on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, there is no author standing nearby to explain passages. No sputtering...'but, but, but.....' No pleading 'please, please, please....' And certainly no bad mouthing the person offering critique.

There's been times when I vehemently disagreed with what someone said about my writing. The no defending rule kept my mouth shut tight. Remarkably, after a few day's perspective, I was able to see that just maybe that person had a point. If more than one person said the same thing, then I realized my writing had a problem I needed to fix. I won't even tell you about the blood bath that is professional photography competitions. Ouch.

Finding people who will be honest with you is an effort worth taking. Take a look around you. Who will offer you unvarnished truth? Value these folks. Especially if they are in your field. They are worth gold to you in your pursuit of excellence.

And don't you dare whine when something negative comes your way. Professionals don't whine. They go home and work even harder.

Now, go out and create something incredible so we can all tell you how genuinely wonderful you are.

10 Other Creative Souls are Saying:

Tom - 7th Street Cottage said...

In my first year of Architecture school, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. Every critique seemed to start off well. They like this idea. They like the composition. They liked the first 3 minutes of whatever they had to say. The next 20 minutes was spent beating me into the ground over every single nit-picky thing. In my second year, I got mad during a critique. How could they not understand the genius of the bicycle factory that I had just designed? How did they miss the importance of those three little round windows in the top of the eaves?

By the time I was preparing to graduate, I could handled being told to my face that every thing I had completed was garbage and should be treated as such. "Don't bother photographing this project, no one will want to see it in your portfolio," one visiting professor said about my thesis project. I didn't even flinch.

What has happened along the way is that I have become the harshest critic. I know when something is garbage. I know when something is truly awe inspiring too. It was a long road to get there. Every creative soul has to learn to accept criticism. If they don't, they eventually stop being creative.

Being Beth said...

But, but, but.....I don't want to hear it from...well, you know ...Oh, you DID say I didn't have to agree with the person giving the critique. LOL!!!

Great post, and a perfect day for it...I suppose you're going to make an appearance tonight? Wish I could be there.

Cheri (aka "The Mom Lady") said...

Wow, a writers group! How fun is that? Where did you find it?

Some days I'm from the school of "Don't ask; don't tell" when it comes to criticism. Other days, give it to me straight without anesthetic. Being an "emotional yet creative" soul, I pick my battles.

I guess that's why I always loved choir at school - it's a collaborative effort. If I screw up, there are others to "cover" (literally) for me. I never could do the solo thing like my sister. I really have no idea how thick or thin my skin is in this regard.

Guess if I find a writers group and dive in I'd find out.

Paula said...

Ouch, that's my soul you are stepping on. Seriously, I think this is one of the biggest battles I will have to fight as I reach out to others.

I tell my son that he might as well get used to working without me standing over him. I am not going with him to college. Perhaps I should inform my novel of the same thing and remind it that I will not be standing over it at the bookstore. :)

Thanks!

DebD said...

Good thoughts. I'm pretty sure I would not accept critique very well... thanks for reminding me that from the right people, its often for our good.

Cozy in Texas said...

I so remember my first reading at Trinity Writer's Workshop. Meredith kept rubbing my hand like I was an injured dog saying "there, there." I've come to realize that some critique is valuable and some isn't. It's not the critique but whom it's coming from. Someone who knows what you are trying to achieve will give more valid comments than someone who simply wants to gloat because they feel you put a comma in the wrong place. Thank goodness for those friends who jump in and tell you "it can be better" or "you can improve" it gives us that push to strive toward better writing and those friends are right there cheering you on.
Ann

Jenileigh said...

Wonderful words of wisdom, as always my sweet friend. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I'll ponder it for a quite some time....

Joanne said...

Chocolate aids in handling critique.
Seriously, I learned quickly to embrace critique and learn from it. Actually I do tend to absorb superb information from people's critiques on others' work. When it's my own words, critique can be overwhelming. When it's advice on other folks' writing, I can see and apply it to my own "brilliance".

And Deb, you are excellent at critique - I know I learned from your thoughts at TWW

Good topic
Joanne

Courtney Vail said...

Some people from a writing site and I would critique work through AIM. And we had the zip up rule when it was time for critters to spill the good, the bad and the ugly. I love critique, even the comments I don't agree with. It gets me to look at the work differently rather than through rose-colored glasses.

SoCalPam said...

I had to go through the "zip the lip" period in the writer's workshops I had in college. It was painful picking apart a person's work (especially when you knew how hard they'd worked on it) and it was painful being reviewed.

Ultimately we all learned that the way the critique is expressed makes all the difference. Saying, "The whole second part stunk; I didn't even bother to finish it" is non-productive. Saying, "The action dragged in the second part. How about utilizing another character with a subplot?" I always like to give advice, if I'm able -- it tempers the sting!

As for garden plans, my favorite response is, "You've got a bunch of great plants here -- let's rearrange them!" LOL!

Since hubby is an artist and I'm a writer (he's a writer too, of novels), we've gotten quite good at critiquing one another's work. It helps to have people you trust involved with you.