February 5, 2012
As a writer you do need feedback. But you don’t need criticism. There’s a difference.
Critics love to tear a piece to shreds, leaving very little left intact. Their purpose isn’t to improve the writer’s ability to write, but rather to take a bit of joy in setting them back a few paces.
However, as a writer you do need feedback. It is important to know that you’re communicating your thoughts clearly and efficiently. Also, with proper instruction, you will improve. It’s hard to do so in a vacuum.
So how can you tell the difference? How do you know if you’re going to be torn apart by razor-sharp teeth or if you might just get a kernel of inspiration that will nudge you forward toward great writing?
One tip is to look at the purpose of the one giving their opinion. You can often tell if they are trying to help or hurt by the words they use. Mentors will usually start with words of encouragement, pointing out what is right with a piece. Critics have no such concern and can be rather harsh in their language.
How do you feel after reading someone’s review? If you think you should quit writing after reading their thoughts, then this isn’t a person to consult. It’s a sign that they don’t have your best interest at heart.
Critics love to say, “Don’t quit your day job!” OK, there is some merit in making sure you can put food on the table, but in general I don’t like the tone of that statement. If you don’t like your day job, it’s a good idea to work toward changing it. Do what you enjoy doing in life!
Good mentors will read over your work and give you subtle guidance. They usually will not give you two dozen things to fix, but rather will focus on one. And they will often guide you toward solutions.
For instance, when I see a writer needs a little work on dialogue (and they usually know it), I will suggest that they listen to how people talk. Eavesdrop! It’s a fun research tool.
Make sure to get real feedback from friends and peers. You might show your writing to friends, getting rave reviews and hearty pats on the back. Your friends like you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. Although this is kind, it isn’t terribly helpful if you want to improve.
Keep in mind that the biggest way you can improve is to write. Surround yourself with people that will encourage you in that direction. If you find that someone’s advice makes you want to stop, just realize that they are probably a critic and find a new advisor!