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How I Turn Criticism Into Better Writing – and You Can Too

How I Turn Criticism Into Better Writing

By Kelsey Wharton

“You use ‘and’ too many times in this sentence. It’s something you do a lot in your writing.”

Blink, blink. Swallow.

I was sitting in a review meeting with my editor, going over an article I had written profiling a university research project. I had been expecting the typical suggestions for adding details here and cutting a sentence there.

I was not expecting a blanket critique to my writing.

After the meeting, I clutched a marked-up version of my article as I walked back to my desk, replaying, “It’s something you do a lot…”

Wince.

Criticism: Not Just a Sucky Thing You Have to Take

Feedback and criticism certainly isn’t why anyone gets into writing. Heck, it might be why people get out of writing. Or at least relegate their writing to a private journal.

But criticism is part of the gig.

So here’s the thing. You can either let criticism – or even the possibility of criticism – invade your brain, cast a dark, dark shadow of doubt on your ability as a writer, and potentially paralyze you with fear. (Sounds so great, right?!)

OR!

You can learn to disconnect critiques of your writing from having anything to do with your talent as a writer. At the same time, you can change your perspective on criticism and see it as an opportunity to develop your writing and your business. (Sounds so much better, right?!)

Your Audience Matters, Always

So let’s start here with the simple fact of an audience. Unless you’re writing in that ol’ private journal, you are writing for an audience that is not you. They might be similar to you. But they are not exactly you.

Because of this there will be opinions (so! many! opinions!) about what the message, tone, style and correct number of and’s per sentence should be.

Criticism of this nature can often be headed off by doing your due diligence. Which includes asking questions of your client to clarify a writing assignment and rereading the assignment one more time before you start writing.

But still criticism will find you. Remember – it’s part of the gig. And that’s okay!

The Many Types of Criticism

Criticism comes in many forms. Like, “This is too funny!” or “There are not enough metaphors in here!” or perhaps the concise, “Just NO.”

When this happens, allow yourself a brief moment of self-pity. Personally I recommend silently saying the following: “You cut me deep. You cut me real deep just now, Shrek.”

And now it’s time to move forward.

First of all, remember that every writer – every single one – gets criticism and rejections. So many rejections! That helps, doesn’t it? It’s just part of the gig!

When I got the feedback that I use “and” too much, my gut reaction was to call into question whether I even knew how to write at all. I was so distracted I could barely hear the rest of our meeting.

But my editor wasn’t trying to tell me I was an inept writer. She was trying to point out a way to make my writing better. The person delivering your criticism is likely trying to do the same thing.

Remove the Ego and Hear the Intent of the Critique

So take your ego out of the situation.

You might say something like this, “Hey ego. Let me first say that I really appreciate all that you do for me. You’re always rooting for me and telling me I’m the best. I love hearing that. But right now, you’re in a vulnerable spot and I need to handle this on my own. So if you could go wait in the other room I won’t be long. Here, take these graham crackers I brought for you.”

Now that your ego is happily snacking elsewhere you are free to receive criticism without letting it stick to your ability as a writer.

Although it can be hard to hear, receiving criticism offers a chance to get insight into tailoring your writing for a particular client. Which can lead to more work in the future! At the same time, you can let your professionalism shine by not getting defensive about criticism and showing a willingness to make changes. See above re: more work in the future!

So instead of shutting down, perk up your ears.

Stand Up for Yourself … Sparingly

Criticism can be (politely) challenged, and should be if you feel strongly opposed. But ultimately you will need to heed to request of your client if you’d like to continue working with them.

I’ll offer a caveat to accepting criticism with aplomb. If you receive criticism that veers into the personal or just plain mean then all bets are off. Criticism is part of the gig but it should be professional and stick to the writing and writing process. Anything else should be considered a red flag.

Now when I write and start to type a third “and” in a sentence I pause. I consider whether the sentence might be better as two. Or if I could be more concise.

So while that little bit of criticism was hard to hear I turned it into something productive. And today I’m a better writer because of it.

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