Learning to Learn from Criticism (Constructive and Otherwise)

Scorpion beside rulerIn an ideal world, everyone who read our stories would think carefully before sitting down to pen a clear, polite, and helpful review. The criticism would list what worked and what didn’t; it would tell you what seemed excessive and what needed to be developed more; and it would say all of this in a tone that reassured you that you’re not doing a bad job, really, you’re doing just fine and you just need to keep on practicing.

However, we don’t live in an ideal world. In fact, some of us even venture into the world of online feedback, which can range from well-thought out, useful advice to crude sexual remarks or even bizarre threats. In this modern climate of instant publishing and instant criticism, it’s important to separate the wheat from the chaff where criticism is concerned. What looks like useful criticism may be well-meaning but stupid, and what looks like an ordinary wish for your painful death might in fact be a sign that you need to do something differently.

When I look at a comment on one of my stories, I try to find where I did whatever they mention in the comment. If I can’t find a passage that the review could be talking about, then I usually disregard the review. If the reviewer said nice things, then that’s excellent, but they will not help me unless I can find some specific area of my writing to associate with them. Similarly, I can disregard some nasty comments indeed (except for that “Caketown” fellow who called me a “super lame writer” when I was 12), provided that they at least point to what I did to make the reviewer so mad at me.

If the internet offers anything in abundance, it is opinions. Sifting useful opinions from useless ones can be a boring, unpleasant task, but it can help you identify the strong and weak areas of your writing. Once you’ve done this, you’re a step closer to improving your writing and earning more positive (and hopefully useful) feedback.