On taking criticism

The hardest thing about being a writer is having to take criticism from your peers, professors, editors or publishers. I hate it.

I remember when I was in elementary school, I was working on some creative form of writing.  The teacher told me that I should modify my work in a certain way, a way I didn’t like.  I felt as if I didn’t have a choice because my teacher was a source of authority and of course, they knew better than me.  Ultimately, I was unhappy with the final outcome of my creative work because they teacher influenced me to change it into something I didn’t like.

I’m not saying that all authoritative figures pressure their students into changing their work into what they think it should be, but my experience in grade school has been pretty representative of my experiences overall.    In college I had a poetry professor who was excellent orchestrating criticism sessions.   I don’t feel that the criticism was any different, she just made the class a safe place.  And as a highly sensitive person, I appreciated that.   One particular poem turned out better in the end because of everyone’s feedback.  My professor helped her students capture their intent, style and voice in their writing.   I’ve forgotten what that feels like because most classes leave me feeling deflated or inadequate.  I can’t be that horrible of a writer.

Because of this criticism problem I’ve adopted a coping strategy.  When working on assignments, creative or otherwise, one of two things usually happens: #1) I will work really hard on the assignment and feel good about it.  or #2) I’ll do a half-assed job, and know it’s a half-assed job and hope its not as bad as I thought.    No matter which route I take (usually # 2), I still get the same about of criticism on my work.  And I’ve found that its much easier to take criticism on work where I’ve done a half-assed job and know the criticism is warranted.  However, when I pour my blood soul and tears into the work, the criticism stings.

People making comments and suggestions is not the problem.  The problem is when they are trying to fit it into some cookie cutter mold that satisfies their expectations.  The problem is when my best still isn’t good enough.  And that’s what happened in class this week.  I gave a whole hearted effort to my assignment due this week, and I don’t remember one positive comment from this week, not even from the professor.

I’m not going to lie.  I like my writing style.  It’s taken a long time, but I’ve found a voice I’m comfortable with.  And I think that when I work really hard at something, it comes out pretty well.  Not worthy of what I got this past week. When I come up with something I like, it will be extremely difficult to get me to change it.  Sometimes, I will have spent hours agonizing over a phrase and eventually get it to a place that I like.  Then, my commenters say that line is a piece of sh*t, then what?

Especially with poetry, I take the bullsh*t comments and flush them down the toilet.  I roll my eyes at the stupidity of my commenter’s inability to comprehend; yet I also relish in the fact that they will never understand.  But I quit poetry (academically) because its too complicated.  I’ve always seen the world in a strange, unappreciated way.  I wrote a poem about a beautiful girl walking, and her desire to shun peer pressure to be a certain way because of society, and my readers interpreted it as some model trying not to be anorexic or whatever.  I didn’t correct them.  It’s poetry- you are entitled to your read of it.  From your experience, your personal life, the writing may speak to you in that way.  And I think that any type of writing can work like that.  Readers will see the world you create in your writing through the tint of their reading glasses, not yours.  They read what they want to; they’ll skip what they don’t.

Now all of this gets incredibly complicated when your grade is being determined by someone who doesn’t get you, or at least refuses to see your perspective.

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