handling criticism - office hours no. 2

criticism can be poison

criticism can be poison


Have you been on the receiving end of a social media smackdown? Yeah, me too...come sit next to me, darling. We'll talk.

Here's what happened:

A few years ago, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time (that's National Novel Writing Month). I was excited and scared: I'd written  for years...but could I finish my half-written book in just a month? Could regular, ordinary me join the ranks of real writers? I wrote in a frenzy and followed the NaNoWriMo Twitter account, where every afternoon they sent updates with timed writing sprints to the Twitterverse. Things like: write for the next 30 minutes nonstop, starting.....NOW!

I was stoked - I spent all day writing, and late afternoon sent out a Tweet that said, "I can't believe it! I'm writing my book!" Or something like that. And a guy immediately replied, "you're not writing, you're Tweeting...I'm sick of these so-called fake writers who brag about non-accomplishments"... I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the point. Crushed and devastated is probably the best way to describe how I felt. It was as if this guy who didn't even know me could see that I was an imposter, and in no way should be part of a conversation about writing.

I almost quit writing my book that day. I'm so glad I didn't. After a few tears. Umm...a lot of tears. Ok...after an afternoon of sobbing, I realized just because this guy said I wasn't a writer didn't mean it was true. I was almost finished with the first draft of my book. I book I thought I couldn't finish in a month...and I was only 1000 words away from my 100,000 word benchmark. Wow. I did that. I've written since I was a little girl...it was (and still is) a big part of who I am. I was and am (and always will be) a writer. And here I was: I was ready to let a stranger on the internet tell me my name. No. Not gonna happen, my friend. I decided something major that day:

I'm not gonna let strangers on the internet tell me who i am

Here's the thing: I'm not a perfect anything. I'm not a perfect writer. I'm not a perfect person. I'm not even a perfect dog owner. (My dog is using my foot as a headrest at this very moment. I'd like to get up and get another glass of water, but I'm going to stay here until she wakes up on her own.) I don't pretend to be perfect, and neither should you. But absorbing the shouts and sneers of strangers into my skin through the magic of wifi isn't really my idea of a good time, you know?

So I replied to the guy, not in anger, but more of a question. I might have even quoted one of my favorite lines from Clueless:

"That was way harsh, Tai," I typed. "Would You say that to your best friend?"

And he responded. A little nicer, but sticking to his guns. He said he was tough because he didn't like  how writer's were too quick to pat themselves on the back. Do the work, he said. Don't talk about doing the work. And yes, he would say it like that to anyone, even his best friend. I probably backed down. Mainly because I didn't feel like fighting. But here's the thing: when people offer criticism under the "Yes, I would talk this way to my (mother/best friend/neighbor/myself)." I always think, "but I'm not your (mother/best friend/neighbor/yourself). You don't know me in the same way you know them."

Like the gift that it is, criticism should be personalized for the recipient. I can be spectacularly and hilariously blunt with my sister ('ho...no."). We have a history, and a definite rapport. With a stranger, I have neither, so I'll choose my words waaaaaaay more carefully. This is Adulting 101: Nuance and Communication, and it's kinda a requirement of life.

There is a big difference between criticism meant to elevate and criticism meant to belittle.

You can me when I'm wrong; I'm ok with that. 

Like me enough to tell me I'm wrong. Respect me enough to tell me kindly.