by Rachel Carey
The mention of the word makes all of us shiver with fear (you don’t have to deny it) as waves of low self-esteem crash and leave us breathless. Since I am a student and writer desperately trying to impress my superiors as well as keep what I know is right for me in mind, criticism is not a friend that I enjoy meeting up with often. But I wouldn’t consider it an enemy, either.
Not any more, that is.
Yes, there was a time when the mention of a meeting after class caused me to go into a cold sweat while my heart rate rose to somewhere in the realm of dangerous, but I’ve slowly learned that taking others’ opinions into account when it comes to my work isn’t so bad after all. Especially when they have what’s best for me in mind.
Below, I will recount the tale of the most useful criticism I ever received, in the hopes that it will help you help those students who are still deathly afraid of criticism come to terms with it …
Coincidentally, the most useful criticism I ever received was about criticism. I can’t remember the first time I heard it, or who said it, but I do know that it’s stuck with me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in order to stop fearing constructive criticism, this lesson needs to be accepted by the criticized:
Don’t take [constructive] criticism to heart.
It’s that easy … isn’t it?
Well … adhering to this criticism is difficult because the minute we start working hard on something, it becomes a part of us, a piece of us that we desperately hope is accepted by whomever we intend our audience to be. Being told that something we’ve produced is below standard, no matter how far below or how nice the person conveying the message is, often causes something in us to already start planning to shy away from the next challenge.
But, this can’t be our default reaction. If we constantly take another’s criticism to heart, our own originality will die. Your work will be so influenced by others that it will stop being influenced by you, and the world doesn’t need any more people following the crowd because it’s safer to be accepted all the time. Being accepted all the time might be easy, but it’s also boring.
By the same token, you also shouldn’t disregard every criticism you receive. There is no need to be dismissive when people are simply trying to help you improve. Often times, an objective perspective is just what we need to give our work the breath of fresh air it needs to reach the next level.
Taking a step back when you receive helpful hints, weighing whether or not a person’s opinion is in line with the message that you want your work to convey (or what you’ve been told it should convey), is a critical step in becoming the best you can be.
Let the criticisms positively change your work, just don’t let the criticisms negatively change you.
Rarely, if ever, are criticisms of your work meant to be taken personally.
Rachel Carey is a summer intern at Prestwick House. She is also a senior at the University of Delaware, where she studies English with a concentration in Creative Writing. During the school year, she is an active editor and writer for Caesura and The Main Street Journal, both of which are prominent literary magazines on campus, as well as Vice President of The Blue Pen Society writing club.