The Wordsmythe's Weblog…

…On Words, Love and Life

Crippling Criticism or Constructive Capacitation

According to Dictionary.com, criticism is;

1. the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.

2. the act of passing severe judgement; censure; fault-finding.

3. the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.

Whenever I hear the word, even though the frontal lobe of my brain understands there is also a positive side to it, I can’t stop myself from thinking it is so negative. So every time I use the word, I tend to prefix it with ‘constructive’. It takes the edge off for me.

Depending on who is giving it and how criticism is given, the feeling it leaves you with can range from catastrophic and crippling to cheerful and confident. Criticism possesses the innate ability to spur you on to do better or to throw in the towel and give up altogether.

As much as I appreciate that, like it says in the third definition of the word above, criticism is necessary for progress, I am loath to receive it for fear of hearing something I don’t like. I would be a lot more forthcoming in seeking it were the feedback guaranteed to be positive but that is wishful thinking really.

I was thinking today that it would be extremely myopic of me to let my aversion to criticism get the better of me. I will not improve my craft by being a coward and shying away from feedback that is not necessarily palatable but needful to make me a better craftsman. It is a necessary evil and with a positive attitude, I can turn it around in my favour. Besides the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing and I don’t want to do that. I want to do something that counts.

When I get criticised, at first I tend to focus on the critic and how they meant to harm me by saying what they said. I think of how little regard they place on my person or my work to have uttered their opinion so callously and with little consideration for my feelings. However when I do take a moment to actually hear what they are saying, regardless of the delivery, I have to admit, albeit grudgingly,  that there may be some truth to their words.

There is a famous saying that goes “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”. I know it doesn’t apply in every situation but it certainly does with criticism and how you handle it. It may seem hurtful, spiteful, inconsiderate and rude. The critic may truly not have had any good intentions towards you but all that matters very little. What matters is how we react to it. If we let it, the criticism may cripple us into inactivity or capacitate and enable us to get better at whatever it is we are seeking to accomplish.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US president, captured this sentiment succinctly when he said;

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

You can’t stop doing what you do best simply because someone has a contrary opinion. Turn criticism around into a compliment. Think of the pioneers in your field of expertise and how much criticism they received. Study how they used it as a stepping stone to reaching their goal. If you are doing something worth criticising, chances are you are probably on the right track.

What are your thoughts? Please share.

Thanks for stopping by and tara for now.

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16 thoughts on “Crippling Criticism or Constructive Capacitation

  1. Wordsmythe, I’m going to have to share this post. The worst thing any writer with lots of potential can do is to let the criticism beat them down.

    I understand exactly that fear you write about and although I’ve never done any research on it, I know that every creative person, regardless of how sucessful they are at what they do, continue to fear it. I cringe at criticism too, but I’d rather prefer to get my critisism in close quarters than have my flawed creative work exposed to the public. At that point, the “cringe” I’d feel will be almost like putting a gun to my head, because once your work is out there, it is out there and there is no taking back. But then, can you imagine Denzel Washington saying he doesn’t listen to critics concerning his movies? While this can lead to disastrous consequences, I’m kinda guessing that what he is trying to say is that what counts is for regular people to enjoy what he does. When I write, I aim to entertain…I’m not aiming to please the critics, because what one critic will consider a strenght in your work, another will look at it as a weakness. I always tell myself that at the end of the day, what matters is if I was able to entertain my audience; if i was sucessful at sharing a story with them that made an impact. I know some people may disagree with me here, but I always believe that if there’s a good story, then it won’t really matter how it was exactly delivered. Just make the story good…and then a good editor can work on delivery.

    Praying for all the best with your writing. You are good at it… a very descriptive, true-to-life storyteller and I wish you all the best!

    • Thanks for sharing the post and for the compliment on my writing, Lara.

      I, too, am thankful for a small group of critics who happen to be in a similar stage of their writing journey before I venture to showcase my writing to a larger readership.

  2. I agree. Criticism no matter how it is delivered can be hard for us ‘creatives’. Ooh I like the sound of being referred to as a creative person. lol. Anyway I digress.

    I’ve come to learn that the way one deals with criticism says less about the ‘criticism’ and more about the person. As much as it may hurt, I’ve learnt to absorb the ones that lead to growth and let go of the ones that are just plain old ‘nasty’. As Lara says, it is much better to get criticism from a smaller group of critics whom you trust than to publish something that would make you ‘cringe’ to the wider world. I know how I cringe when I read some books and I think I can’t believe the author published it.

    So as far as I’m concerned criticism is good. It’s just the delivery that sometimes hurts.

    • Kiru, I agree that it’s how you handle it that is important. As difficult as it may be, when it comes to criticism, it’s best to adopt a ‘water off a duck’s back’ attitude and sieve out the productive from the nasty.

      There is life after criticism!

  3. Joxy on said:

    Well said. I believe Lara and Kiru have voiced my thoughts on the matter. I wish it was the fear of criticism that held me back, seem to have lost my writing mojo (for now).

    • Joxy dear,

      You’ve had a lot on your plate the last few months so just ease back in gently and don’t get too hung up on it. May your elusive mojo return from its unofficial leave IJN. Amen

  4. Lara and Kiru have said it all. More often than not we need to reinforce the belief in ourselves so that when criticism comes it doesn’t crush us. I have been crushed and burnt before because I was clueless to how to handle criticism. One never becomes a master at it but the knowledge of what to do or expect helps a great deal. Although most criticisms are subjective, when more people are pointing to the same thing in our writings then we ought to give that aspect a closer inspection.

    Thanks for sharing this, Nkem. It really does help reading it again and again.

  5. Well articulated post and I love the comments too. Yesterday I received an email from someone who’s beta reading my MS with loads of inlines, lol. It can get one beat down sometimes but I’ve learnt to take it in stride now. It’s for the better. However, I do not take all suggestions as I have a vision for my work, and that has the final say.

  6. Well articulated
    I dont think anyone likes criticism. I always feel that anyone who shrugs their shoulders dismissively after being criticised – must lack passion.

    If one truly cares about something – art, writing, cooking, anything; then you must take criticism badly at first. The trick is to learn how to translate that hurt into a motivationto excel.

  7. I think everyone who has commented here has said it all. Criticism, while hurtful, is a good thing, as it helps one strive for improvement.

    Lara sums you up nicely as a ‘descriptive and true to life storyteller’. (I’m still hot under the collar after reading your ‘love scene’ in your manuscript. Ooooh! Such underlying passion!)

    Keep at it! Take the good from the criticism and ditch the spite!
    You’re good!

  8. Very true, Nkem. Criticism isn’t always fun. I usually have to take a big girl pill before reading reviews of my work. When I critique, I try to give the positives as well as the nagatives (or as I call them, ‘things to look at’) 🙂

    Love that quote by Theodore Roosevelt. People don’t talk like that anymore, do they?

    I look forward to reading your work

    E

  9. Eckhart on said:

    Come on, you all can do better about ‘criticism’ – think through it, and you will cherish it. You have to separate the ‘dross from the silver’; how would you ever be able to do that without ‘criticism’ ?
    ‘Criticism’ is one’s subjective perception, a reaction to an expression.

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