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Receiving Criticism and Humbling Pride

14 Sep

This weekend, I’ve been going back and forth with a younger writer whose feelings were offended when — in the normal course of a writers meeting last month, during the time we critiqued each other’s stories — I pointed out a grammatical error.

It’s as if I’ve declared her incompetent and attacked her storytelling.

Knowing I’m an editor, some writers have read my work and taken delight in pointing out errors real or perceived. There’s a battle for King of the Hill, and if their pride is pricked, they fight even harder to take down the one who did it. This writer has done the same, sending a list of potential grammatical errors from my soon-to-be-published novel.

I could respond in kind, and snipe or poke at her, try to one-up her, but that would feed the emotional drama and accomplish nothing.

I could simply refuse to engage, and try to be “above” it all. However, all that does is protect my pride and teach her nothing.

So, what do I do?

I thank her, discuss the various proper uses of a particular word, show how and why most examples she listed weren’t incorrect, concede another word might be better in three of the instances, and end with more thanks.

My pride was jabbed, but I knew what was coming as soon as I saw her annoyed expression and flushed cheeks, and if a person loses his ability to teach or be teachable, he loses his ability to grow and change. So, at the risk of her misunderstanding and anger, I have been unemotional but honest in my responses, hoping she sees my intentions for what they truly are: her betterment as a writer.

When we receive criticism, even if it’s covered in angst and ugliness, we can still sift it, searching even the nasty comments for any truth that might help us improve. Earlier this year, I received feedback that was delivered with a scolding and a superior tone that shut me down and made me uninterested in what the guy said. Later, after calming down and acknowledging there might be something of use, I re-read the comments and found two items that actually helped repair scenes. All the rest of the feedback? Tossed.

So, no, we don’t need to keep the crap, but fertilizer helps stuff grow. (wink and a smile)

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