Tag Archives: criticism

Opening the Door to Criticism

Back when I was in high school and was still very involved in music, I remember the terror of upcoming performances. A school orchestra concert was fine, but it was the solo moments of performing that always terrified me. It was the recitals, auditions, festivals, competitions, and all that jazz that had me a nervous quaking mess.

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My trophy for six years of consecutive excellent ratings in the Certificate of Merit festival

After failing one audition my senior year, I had a long talk with my private violin teacher where I lamented how my nervousness had destroyed me, even though I’d been very well prepared. Her advice to me is something I’ve never forgotten.

Practice regularly in front of other people, she said. Sit down and make your family and your friends and other people listen to you over and over and over again. And you’ll start to get over some of the jitters. The best thing you can do is practice.

I took her advice for my next piano festival, pulling a few friends aside after class to make them sit in a practice room with me while I played my pieces for them. And it really did seem to help in some respects.

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Me at my violin recital

What I’d never considered before this year, was doing the same thing with writing and the thing I feared above all else: criticism.

I am a sensitive person. I hate hearing negative things, whether about myself or my writing or something else entirely. I just don’t take it well. At all. But the thing is, this last year I decided to do a novel for my senior thesis project. I knew that would involve regular checkups with my professors who would end up reading my works and looking at them critically. I was understandably nervous.

And yes, my first few meetings with my advisors were rough. I was embarrassed and extremely jittery. What I found, however, was that the more I practiced giving my works to others, the easier it became.

I had to do a writing group for one of my classes, I was taking a fiction writing class at the time constantly putting short stories in front of my peers, I sent out a plea on Facebook for readers and gave a few drafts to different friends.

Now, I won’t just pretend I can now hand over a manuscript with absolutely no fear, but I certainly stopped hesitating in hitting a send button to send a section to someone. I stopped having to do three edits before being brave enough to give my work away. I started feeling less hurt every time someone told me something I needed to change or suggested I do a rewrite.

Constructive-Criticism

I think my violin teacher really hit home with the basic concept. The more you get used to something that seems intimidating and difficult, the less scary it becomes. Normalizing and immersing yourself in a fear can help you adjust to it.

So my advice for being more open to criticism may seem a little odd, but the best thing you can do to is to take more of it. Keep giving your work out to people. Keep working on being more open to feedback and realizing it’s helpful. Keep being brave and testing yourself. But also keep recognizing the small victories for what they are. It isn’t easy sharing with others, nor is it easy facing potential negative feedback or more critical points, but like any good thing in life, practice makes perfect.

Here are just a few ideas: join a writing group, put up a Facebook post asking for readers, ask a friend, find an online writing community, ask a mentor, teacher, or professor (for students especially), find a website to post works on, try posting sections of your work on a blog, and just keep an eye out for opportunities to submit works to different places or give it to further readers.

How do you deal with criticism? What methods do you use to be brave? How do you choose who gets to read your work? Just a few good questions to get some conversations rolling. Let me know your thoughts!

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How Being an English Major Ruined my Life

Oh don’t worry. This won’t be a post about some literature student starving on the streets because she chose to major in an unusable subject with little career success. We’ll save that for when I graduate, alright?

No, this is going to be a post about how studying literature has made it impossible for me to see the world the same way. Because while we might see literary critical lenses as a pair of glasses to slide on and off, they’ve really become more like permanent eye surgery.

My Literary Foundation of Women’s Studies class so far has been the best example of how being an English major can be difficult for me at times.

I went into the class excited to learn more about a feminist literary perspective. I identify myself as a feminist, but am still learning a lot about the history and other important elements. So I was looking forward to taking a class solely from that viewpoint. My excitement grew when I noticed that one of my favorite novels of all time was on the reading list: Jane Eyre.

I had always been told this book was an example of early feminist literature. I mean Charlotte Brontë was an early female writer, and how impressive is that? So I assumed we’d be looking at it from that perspective. Reading and saying “Wow this was so progressive for her time!” was what I had pictured. I was startled to instead find myself in the realm of criticism and skepticism; fellow female classmates shook their heads at the end and said they were unsatisfied with how things had turned out. Even my professor, who I had initially thought liked the book, seemed to be showing some disdain for certain elements. And our next book on the reading list didn’t help matters.

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Take the Criticism and Learn

I stride briskly through the crisp autumn air, the coolness stinging my face, making my hands curl tighter around the crumpled paper in my hands. My eyes water, and I sense tears coming though I do my best to hold them at bay. I let out a foul curse and continue on trying to ignore the blue and black markings all over the paper, all over my work.

It’s only nine in the morning, and I’m already about to cry. But then again, I’ve never really experienced this feeling before. And it’s awful. I’ve taken heartbreak and rejection. I’ve lived through being ignored and being used. But I’m not sure I can live through this. Through utter and complete criticism to a work of writing.

This? This is Journalism class. This is my discovery that not all forms of writing are created equal and though I can succeed on many playing fields, the world of news is a whole different world where my enemies feel a heck of a lot stronger than most.

All my life I’ve been told what a spectacular writer I am. I remember back to elementary school when I was one of two people in my class selected to go to a writing conference because I showed obvious talent. I remember to junior high when I came out with the highest grade in my regular English class and was transferred to accelerated the next year. I remember friends begging me for the next chapter in high school. I remember pulling off A’s on my hardest literature class essays. But for once in my life no one is looking at my work and applauding.

The paper is a mess, words scrawled everywhere, things crossed out, commas added. And if that wasn’t enough my peer editing group had to critique my work aloud, voicing to the whole world what was wrong with my article. I felt my face heat up, felt defensiveness take over. I tried my best to nod through the criticism even as tears started to try to escape. As the professor announced the end of class, I grabbed the article and ran for the door.

Perhaps I needed to finally know what it felt like to not be the one with the best work. Perhaps this worthy lesson has shown me something. I have always advocated for trying new things, and I did. I branched into journalism, and in doing so learned that I cannot be talented at everything.

I don’t want to sit here and sound like I’m whining about how I can’t write journalism. Certainly it is an admirable talent, and I would be delighted if I had natural abilities to produce news stories, but as I don’t I must be satisfied with what I do have. I have written four novels in my lifetime, keep a blog, have tried my hand at a variety of types of fiction, have even branched into nonfiction on occasion. I rarely get a bad grade on an essay. I have been blessed whether I like it or not, and to simply know this is the wrong form for me is in some ways a pleasant surprise. I think it would be exhausting to be good at every form of writing.

As I stand looking out at the trees of campus, feeling the tears slowly disappear and resolve take over, I know I learned a few simple truths. Every writer encounters criticism. To be honest I’m bad at taking it in general. But the main thing I learned today is that we all face it at some point in our writing lives. No matter how talented we may seem on the surface, every writer has an Achilles’ heal. And mine is journalism. And so, I’ve learned what not to pursue in my career. And I gladly leave this craft to writers far more talented than I.

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