How Thick Is Your Skin?

criticismOn an average day, how often are you criticized?

Did you recoil a bit at the question?

It’s not a fun thing, being criticized. It’s basically giving someone else permission to tell you why they don’t like something about you or something you’ve done. Even if you think you’re ready for it, there’s still a sting there. Bosses have to do it, spouses are guilty of it, and parents and teachers criticize their charges daily. We get away with it because criticism isn’t always negative. Tuck that gem away for later because I’m coming back to it.

I’ve gotten a lot better at receiving criticism, especially since joining my online writing critique group. Just this week, I’ve received sixteen critiques on the first chapter of my mystery novel. Sixteen is unheard of. Ten is a lot. Eight is more normal. Sixteen? Yowza. That usually means there’s something really right or really wrong with it.

I put the mostly polished chapter there because it wasn’t getting the bites I was expecting from agents and mentor authors, and I wanted to know why. The verdict? Weak hook, and they offered suggested fixes. Awesome. I can totally deal with that, and I’ve already revised to something more kickass, in my humble opinion.

I never would have known how to fix my broken chapter if not for the criticism.

Good criticism isn’t always – and I would say, should rarely be – negative (see, I told you I’d come back to it). With that in mind, I offer two steps for dealing with criticism and responding accordingly:

1. Make sure the critic isn’t just being an asshole. You’ll know because they’ll only dish out ways you suck and offer nothing in regards to merit. They’re just being a stupid jerky doodoo head who wants to make themselves feel better by making you feel worse. If this is the case, confidently crumple the criticism, stuff it into a bag, and light it on fire. Then roast marshmallows on it. Mmmmmm. Harsh crit mallows. My favorite.

If you’ve cleared the critic of point 1, then you can assume the person offered the criticism with the intention of helping you improve. Proceed to step two.

2. Listen to what they’re saying. Getting defensive doesn’t help anything, and in the case of your boss, could get you fired. Nobody’s perfect. Life is a series of trials, errors, and adjustments. Sometimes we need others to point us in the right direction. Even if you don’t agree with them, there’s probably a little something there that will ring true for you.

Remember that bit about parents and teachers criticizing daily? That’s because kids are new on the planet and usually don’t know what the hell they’re doing. People call it different things in this case – redirection, instruction, whatever. The bones of it is, “This is incorrect; let me show you how to fix it.” And we all know to sprinkle encouragement along the way.

What about you? How good are you at receiving criticism?

4 thoughts on “How Thick Is Your Skin?

  1. Criticism from someone I don’t know through the awful medium of a stock-standard rejection letter is the worst. But is that criticism? It’s certainly not constructive, and I can’t learn anything from it. It just gets me down without giving me the tools to fix something I love. That’s great you got some constructive criticism for your book 🙂

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    • Ugh, I agree. Those rejections aren’t useful for improvement. I would say they aren’t criticism for that reason. I’ve heard that agents and editors get so many queries that they reject 90% of them and don’t send feedback simply because of volume. I doubt there’s something wrong with all of those. Maybe it’s just not the story the agent was looking for – like when I buy a shirt, I pick out the one I like and leave the rest. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the others.

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  2. Depends on the spirit is it given in and who it comes from. If someone is criticizing me and they do the same thing, then the validity of a hypocrite is null and void. If, however, someone truly cares enough about me to have the guts to confront me about something then I respect that. I may not like it right away, but I usually come around. Yes, there usually is at least some truth to it as well.

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