Saved By Criticism (in writing and in relationships)

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“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” Norman Vincent Peale

Below is a link to one of the best blog posts I’ve read about the value of criticism. I believe it applies to healthier daily living and enriched relationships the same as it applies to improved writing. Dan Balow writes about family and friends who, though well meaning when they praise our writing, actually turn out to be misleading culprits who tell us our work is far better than it is.

This reminds me of a friend who asked my opinion about a book she planned to self publish. Since I’m in the business, I thought she wanted the truth, although I wasn’t comfortable telling her all I thought. It crossed my mind that maybe she only wanted a pat on the back, but I really wanted to help her improve the book. I gave a couple of ideas to see if she was okay with my feedback. Unfortunately, she wasn’t, even though my review was cautious. Her book didn’t sell like she hoped and our relationship never was the same – all a lesson to me about graciously accepting criticism.

When I began my writing career in 2007, I surprised my husband and myself by handling critiques and rejections better than either of us expected. I’m sensitive, so we wondered if a career full of this sort of thing was a good idea. I guess I recognized my writing wasn’t going to improve without some level of support and honesty. It probably helped that my first editor who I respect and like said more than once, “Writing is rewriting” and “There are two kinds of writers: ones who are still learning and bad ones.”

That brings me around to my critique group that meets an hour and a half from where I live. I haven’t always appreciated the long commute, but I have valued the distance. When I first attended, I was grateful I only knew the members as fellow writers since we didn’t live in the same town. That way, our feedback to each other wasn’t influenced by friendship. We are now friends, but since we started on the “write” foot, foremost in our relationship with each other is still the honesty (and, yes, criticism) we share during our meetings.

I’m not suggesting we stand by and be criticized by anyone who has an opinion. However, if I trust that you care about me and I trust that you know what you’re talking about, I’ll listen and then try to put your suggestions into print and practice. Like Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Heaven help those who have no one to tell him or her the truth or those who won’t listen to anyone who tries. I’m fortunate to be encircled by people who care enough to criticize me and I’m grateful I can hear them. For me, speaking the critical truth takes more courage than hearing it, but I want to care enough to share that responsibility as well.

At least in part (I repeat, in part), criticism is what critique groups are about, criticism is what friendships are about, and criticism is what marriage and parenting are about.

Do you have people you trust to tell you what you need to hear? Do you listen? Are you honest with others?

Click here to read Bad Reviews by Dan Balow (from The Steve Laube Agency Blog).

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5 responses »

  1. Good post; and I’m sorry about the damaged friendship.

    I’m pretty good at taking criticism when it’s constructive; if criticism for a single event become the springboard for a free-ranging critical rave, that’s not OK. Those, I tune out.

    Before offering criticism , especially on creative work, I always do a gut-check…will what I’m about to say really help?

    The answer if often, No; too many times I have found myself looking for things to criticize, to feed my overweening conceit. I don’t like the person I was, when I did that.

    And sometimes a person’s in a really fragile place; a pro forma bit of praise can keep her on the rails, until things settle down enough for the constructive criticism that would have been a disaster if offered earlier.

    • Thanks, Andrew. I’m sorry too.

      I always appreciate your comments because they give me food for thought. I want to be extra sensitive to that “fragile place” you mentioned. I’ve been there and criticism isn’t necessarily a good thing in that space. We do need to be discerning. And, you’re right, critical rants are not cool!

  2. On Facebook ~

    Marci Seither
    Yesterday at 11:09am ·
    Sometimes people get so unnerved by the thought of being critiqued that they settle for mediocrity…Marcy Weydemuller…thanks for being the best editor and writing coach ever..listening to your advice has made all the difference between being a writer and being a published writer.

    Show Attachment

    Like Comment Share
    You, Kathy Boyd Fellure, Susy Flory and 7 others like this.

    Kim Henson Marci Seither, thanks so much for passing this along. I appreciate the exposure and, even more, I appreciate what you shared. I have an editor/mentor who’s done the same for me. What a gift!
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 11:17am

    Marcy Weydemuller Thanks, Marci! Blushing. And the bonus is our sidesplitting brainstorm sessions when we can geographically connect. smile emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · 19 hrs

  3. I had three careers before I began to write. But they all had four things in common–observing, researching, interviewing and writing
    So when a friend asked me to write for a paper he had founded and was to become big quickly of course I said yes figuring….you know.
    He was very patient and showed me what’s important and what’s not
    I had always taken writing workshops for fun. Now they became serious. I who hate to be criticized found that I lived for it
    Blogging was fun at first but the comments were beyond crazy. Somebody in a blog I wrote for said “this is what you should expect as a writer.” For the first time I found myself asserting myself. Meanness isn’t critiquing. I want to be told what doesn’t work and why—or better yet figure that out for myself. I don’t want to be told I am a bad person. Big difference that many people on the internet don’t get
    Today I spoke to a “strategist.” She charges $600 so you can self publish, goes over your google analyticals and determines if you need an editor to redo your voice—that’s another thousand.
    There’s criticism that I want and need. Criticism meant to hurt. And criticism so I will spend money.
    Fortunately I have reached the point where I can tell the difference. There were many places in the call where she tried to scare me into thinking I couldn’t do it without her expertise–I only have hundreds of emails telling me that I have changed lives. I need thousands
    I know we live in a crazy world filled with Internet sensations but I want to be a person people read before going to sleep. It’s a dream but I do believe in persistance.
    ~pia
    http://courtingdestiny.com

    • Writing is the perfect profession for speaking up, growing up, and quickly figuring out which critiques (and the people giving them) are helpful and which are not. I’ve only had one abusive editor/publisher, and, believe me, one was enough. I wrote for her for two weeks. That was more than enough. The crazy thing is, I sort of sold my soul to do the writing. I knew better before I started, but I was resume building so I did it anyway. I learned so much about what not to do during those 14 days. I haven’t put myself in a position like that since then.

      Hundreds of emails that you’ve changed lives is plenty impressive to me. I believe you’re on the right track, Pia. I appreciate your comment.

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