“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).