How to Judge Criticism

Criticism means learning to weigh the words given by the critic.Criticism can be given for multiple reasons, but it generally can be divided into two camps of thought. The first is criticism that is for the writer’s benefit; that is, criticism that takes a person’s work to the next level and pushes him or her to reach that level. The second is to be dismissed, and it is to be dismissed immediately. It is the sort of criticism that is done for the sake of “poking holes.” It has no grace to it. It has no aim other than belittlement and a desire to prove who is better than whom.

The first type of criticism requires consideration. Some of the criticism will have merit to it; some of it won’t. Some of it, no matter how kindly given, will be irrelevant. Some of it will get stuck on a single line or word. It will forget to examine how that line or words works in relation to the piece in its entirety. Some criticism will require tearing a piece down to its core elements and rebuilding. Some will result in demolition. Some criticism will say, “You can do better than this. Try again.” Some will express misunderstanding, and it may be a misunderstanding that only one person has. In such a case, the question becomes one of who will prevail, the majority or the minority. The majority typically rules, but, sometimes, the minority has an insight that shouldn’t be ignored. The minority may lead to a different way of looking at the subject or an alternate way of writing about it.

The second type, as stated earlier, is to be ignored. The comments usually are inflammatory if not downright mean. They are meant to garner reactions. To interact with the criticism or the critic in any manner is to give credence to the statements and the person. Neither must occur; critics of this ilk are to be refused admittance to one’s work. Acknowledging the comments and the person only gives that person the power to continue spewing hate-filled, unhelpful statements.

How can a writer tell the difference between the two types of criticism? The first, no matter how harsh it is or seems, always is done for the benefit of the writer. The critic receives nothing from the criticism except the knowledge that he or she may have helped the writer in some way. The second, which is always harsh, is done for the benefit of the critic. It’s given because the critic likes the sound of his or her voice. The critic has no real concern for the work or the writer; he or she only wants to pontificate.

That’s one way to judge criticism. How do you do it?

Photo: Piddleville (CC BY SA 2.0)

Comments

  1. I better stop using the term “poke holes in it” I say that all the time but I don’t say it to be hurtful. I just like the term. 
    You make great points here. Constructive criticism is the only way forward. Why one would approach it in any other way is beyond me.

    • rdopping I think the phrase sometimes has more to do with the intent. I would guess people who know you know that you don’t say the term to deride them or their work. 
      I don’t know why any other way would be used, but I’ve experienced it. I think it has to do with the person’s sense of ego.

  2. What a great topic Erin. I was very lucky to have some wonderful teachers along the way. The criticism was taken as teaching. But in order to be in the position of teacher, you have to have earned some credibility and respect. In the past I’ve been able to do this with writers and designers.  And I always considered myself good at it, and productive as well. 
    But… I was in a position about two years ago where I was consulting with someone who had a lot to learn. But I could never quite get through to that person. It was incredibly uncomfortable for both of us. 
    I guess it’s good to go through that experience, but I don’t want to go through it again.

    • barrettrossie Credibility and respect are musts. It’s hard to take criticism from a person who either a) has no relevant experience or b) acts unbecomingly.
      Oh, that is hard. It can raise all sorts of doubts. Maybe someone external to the work relationship could have helped, but I don’t know. Sometimes a disconnect just happens no matter how hard you try to overcome it. 
      Personally, I think you’re a great critic. I like hearing your thoughts on things. Maybe that’s part of the whole process, too – the giver of criticism has to want what’s best for the receiver, and the receiver has to want to learn and grow. Without both of those things, conflict is certain to ensue. Even then, it isn’t easy. I’m thinking of a piano teacher I once had. We just never meshed well even though I’m sure she was a good teacher, and I did want to learn.

  3. I say f*&k em all!  Just kidding.

  4. Presentation is important. The way you share criticism has a lot to do with how it is received and whether people understand your intent. Some people do a very poor job of it.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes They do! Unfortunately, they often seem to be the ones least receptive to criticism themselves…
      Presentation does matter. I’ve also learned that if there’s any confusion as to intent, it’s best to ask. Assumptions are dangerous, dangerous things.

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