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.
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.
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.
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!