A friend has suggested I write about Criticism.
I am going with this definition of Criticism: “the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work”. In other words, not Criticism as the expression of disapproval, but as the process of the assessment of both the good and the bad in a person or thing.
In my Creative Writing classes, I have had to accept criticism of my work. It’s a difficult process, I can’t pretend otherwise. As I wrote yesterday, to try something new (especially when you’re a perfectionist) is to put yourself out there and, more scary yet, to let other people judge the results of your efforts. Sometimes it’s easier not to.
But to allow your work to be criticised, in terms of both its merits and its faults, is a rewarding process. If everyone said everything was great all the time it would be:
(a) dishonest, in that nothing is perfect and
(b) unhelpful, as it’s impossible to improve if you don’t know what you’re doing less well. (I don’t say “wrong” as I don’t think any approach or effort is necessarily “wrong” but there are always things that can be done better)
So, moving on from the necessity of criticism when it comes to fiction, academic essays and poetry, what about personal criticism?
In terms of someone assessing your merits, that can be awkward and embarrassing. Some people deal better than others with compliments. It’s always nice to be told when you’re doing something right but it can be hard to accept it, especially if you’re the kind of person who often doubts his/her own merits. I definitely fall into that category! Recently I was one of three people in my class to get a distinction on my creative work. When I was told that, I blushed and couldn’t think of anything at all to say about it, except an expression of surprise and, er, doubt. I think a lot of people are like this, timid about accepting positive feedback. For me, it originally stemmed from a complete lack of self-confidence. I just couldn’t accept that someone would think I was doing something well when I couldn’t see it myself. Now it’s just force of habit that makes me awkward around a compliment. I’ve learned to be braver about it, and have conversations like:
Person: Nice dress.
Me: I know right! That’s why I bought it!
Flippancy works, I guess.
A word of advice to compliment-givers: be gentle!
And in terms of someone assessing your faults? Well again, some people deal with that better than others. There are people who just can’t accept what they perceive to be negative criticism, some who take it on the chin and some who outright don’t believe that they could be doing anything wrong. When I’m hypomanic, for example, any criticism of me is clearly an indication of another person’s inadequacy in terms of not understanding my brilliant thoughts, plans and schemes! Whereas when I’m depressed, any criticism is just confirmation of what I knew already: clearly, I am a dreadful and unworthy person and any negative characteristic I possess confirms this.
When “normal?” Where do I fall on the spectrum? I used to be a genuine pessimist, and when I heard something negative about myself I would think “well that’s it. I can’t change it, can I? I knew I was rubbish anyway”. (I would, by the way, feel exactly the same about comments on my written work. I found an essay today that I wrote aged 19- it got a 71, and I was devastated- as well as amused- because whoever marked it cited my “erratic use of convention” as a reason for not giving me a higher mark). Now I have learned to take a criticism and incorporate it into what I know about myself. If I’m told to be less defeatist, for example, I take a step back from myself, work out exactly how it is that I am behaving/ thinking in a defeatist manner, and then try to amend it. This isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s something I have to work at on a daily basis. But I feel if I can achieve it, that’s a healthier way to be.
A word of advice to critics: be careful!