Friday, November 11, 2011

Critical Thinking

I was reading Reese Rants & Raves' describing her struggles with writing and her acceptance of critiques and I thought to myself - screw that. My tried and true method for dealing with criticism, even the constructive kind?

Ignore it.

I don't take criticism well, because I take it so personally. Whether it's a comment about my cooking or my housekeeping or my blogging, it cuts to very core of me and painfully exposes all my insecurities. Having this blog has brought up a serious problem: If I am willing to put pen to paper, if I wish to promote my writing, if I want to grow my audience, if I want to get better, then I have to be willing to accept the criticisms that come along with it.

I can not expect to rip out perfection every time I sit down to the keyboard. And there's always the chance that, even if I do write something that I love, not everyone else is going to love it.

I had a huge spike in traffic one day recently, and followed it back to a message board where one of my posts was being discussed. The original post hugely inflated my ego "Love this blog!", it went on and on. But the follow up posts were a different story.
"She tries too hard to be funny."
"I used to read her, but don't anymore."
"I don't like the foul language. It's too forced." 

I may have yelled a hearty "fuck you!" to the screen when I read that last one.

The criticisms were, embarrassingly, crushing. They put me in a foul mood for days. I tried to talk myself out of it. So what? Plenty of people like me. Do I really care what a bunch of strangers think about me?

In a word - yes. I write because I want to write, because I have stories I want to tell. But ideally, there will be people who want to read those stories. In the short time I've been writing this blog, I've come to realize that this medium is one that lends itself so much to interaction with the readers. Comments are instantaneous, feedback is immediate. The more I write, the more secure I become in finding my voice, and establishing just who I want to be as a writer. I hope people enjoy reading what I write, but if they don't I have to be willing to accept that.

I also have to be willing to improve as a writer. This means taking that helpful, constructive criticism that's offered by people with the experience I lack. I can't fight an editor over a semicolon. Other writers, editors, proofreaders, their goal is to make me sound better. What kind of dummy would turn down that help?

A few weeks ago, I went to hear David Sedaris. As he read, he would occasionally make a little note on the paper, sometimes in response to the audience's reaction. During the Q&A following the reading, he was asked about those notes.

"I'm always changing things." he said.

There is a lesson for me in that answer. Here is a well established, successful, brilliant writer owning up to the fact that he is constantly improving his own work. And if he's willing to be open to criticism, and self-criticism, who am I to be above it?

This popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, posted by a a writer friend. For all of us out there suffering with self doubt, and trying to find our voice, I thought it was very appropriate.


  1. I agree 100% with this. Great writers tend to be very sensitive (which is why they can pick up on nuances of language, speech, and emotion). Yet it's this same sensitivity that also makes us big open wounds in a world of salt. Sucks.

  2. Just stumbled upon your blog today and I've really enjoyed browsing through your posts Kelly.
    I can totally relate to what you're saying here; I love to write, but I have to admit that I struggle a bit with criticism. I do want to be constructively criticised - because I totally understand that I need it to improve my writing skills - but I know that I'm far too hung up on 'what folk'll think'!
    I started a blog at the beginning of this year to test the water - and to encourage me to write more often - and I've been really happy with the response. But, I do fear that my friends and family are just being 'too nice'.
    Oh, and please don't stop using 'colourful' language; sometimes there are just no other words to do the job!

  3. "If you're holding out for universal popularity, Hagrid, I'm afraid you're going to be in this cabin a very long time." - Albus Dumbledore

    Sorry for quoting Harry Potter at you. It just felt right.

    Thank you for posting this. It was what I needed to hear today.

  4. I just write. And read others some. I never worry about critiques. I just flow and go. I just write and rewrite, and look for places to slide in some humor, mess with fonts, color, rhyme, possibly add a photo. Experiment. Look for opportunities. Its just an all encompassing activity. Time gets lost. I never publish about 10 percent of my projects. I always know when I am "finished" with something, it clicks, at least to me, and thats all I care about. But I'm not afraid to make updates if I feel something becomes "Unfinished". The cool part about writing is the actual writing creative process, the 'in the moment progressive act'. Everything else about it is secondary to me.

  5. Thank you for posting this. I'm a new blogger, and I was crushed today when someone gave a half-smile after she said she read my blog. Where was the "YOU ARE HILARIOUS!" I was hoping for?
    Thanks for letting me commiserate with you for a sec, and thanks for the encouragement.

  6. I got a comment (anonymous) recently that simply said, "Baloney" and I've worried and wondered just what that meant. I hate criticism. Thanks for sharing the quote, that I love.

  7. Criticism can be crippling to me. I constantly second guess, wonder why my blog hasn't become wildly popular, why I haven't been lauded as a hysterical and witty writer. Um, yeah... I'm not THAT good, I do know that... So I just carry on, and hopefully get better. But it's hard to make the decision to lay it all out there... because it opens that door.

  8. Marianne, it is very salty out there, isn't it?
    Jane, I am still amazed that people who aren't related to me read SFC. I'm glad you're here.
    Haley, HP is perfect right here.
    Boston, I feel that way when I'm writing, re: the process, then I just freak the fuck out, lol.
    Ang, don't I know it. Keep at it!
    S. Stauss, I so appreciate you reading. For real.
    Jewels, that is kind of awesome. BALONEY! That would keep me up at night, lol.
    Ashley, that's exactly what we have to do. It's not easy, is it?

  9. kelly

    you are a great writer

    know it

    own it


  10. MOV, Don't dream it, be it. Thank you.

  11. If we were all paralyzed with fear over what everyone thought, we wouldn't be interesting and we wouldn't be honest and we would be who we were really meant to be.

    Love you, Kelly!

  12. you fucking rock... i dont care what anyone else says!

  13. Love you too, Erin!

    Anonymous - the check is in the mail.

  14. I am just catching up and enjoying every minute.