Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who's Afraid of Simon Cowell? Tips for Embracing Criticism

He's tough, brutal and sometimes downright mean, but I think singers with stars in their eyes will miss the unflinching honesty of Simon Cowell on American Idol. Even if you've never watched a full episode of the long running show, you know about Simon. Sound bites and clips of his biting commentary makes us cringe.

And sometimes laugh.

Until we start thinking, what if that was me?

Today's Excuse: I am too sensitive to have my writing criticized.

Public speaking is said to cause more fear in the average person's heart that the thought of death itself. One of the oldest tools to conquer the nervousness associated with speaking in front of a group is to imagine them naked. The irony? When you are sharing your ideas in front of others, it is you who is stripped naked, so to speak. You are no longer safe behind the walls of your inner thoughts, now you are exposing who you are. And it feels a bit drafty.

It's not much different with writing. Your imagination, creativity, and skill are waiting to be discovered, quietly disguised as words on a page. Allowing someone to lift the mask and critique your abilities can leave you raw, especially if you are "lucky" enough to have a Simon in your world.

Excuse Editor Tip: Tough Criticism Shows Your Excuses the Door

  • Honest Criticism--If you survive a bout of honesty regarding shortfalls in your writing, you can no longer use the excuse that you don't know how to do it better. You can no longer lean on the excuse that your work is not selling even though you, your best friend and your mother think it's great. That is why American Idol contestants smiled and nodded hearing the encouraging words from the "nicer" judges, but held their breath in anticipation of Simon. No sugar coating for his medicine. If you take the same kind of medicine correctly,  your writing will get better.

  • Nasty Criticism--Sometimes Simon's comments went too far; instead of helping the contestant, it seemed like he was belittling them. You may get some of this, too. Constructive feedback is the kind you can learn from, while negative comments without anything to back them up just hurt. Facing these attacks often enough makes you stronger and no longer able to hide behind the excuse of being too sensitive. Take a big breath in when this happens, and let it go. You are still alive, still breathing, and your pens still work. You've built up some tolerance to hurtful comments. As a writer, you know the power of words, but you can choose to deflect certain ones to a better direction.
As you allow yourself to share more, you will learn to tell the helpful from the hurtful, the constructive from the destructive. You'll leave the scary criticism battlefield more prepared for the future and less encumbered by the excuses that were holding you back.

How have you dealt with criticism? Have you learned what is honest and what is not? If you are in a writing group, are their rules for giving feedback?

7 comments:

  1. I don't deal well with criticism. My first reaction is feeling quite hurt; but, then I start to think about what was said. I find that most of the time, the person providing the criticism is right. So, even though I cringe whenever anyone criticized my work, I use those as stepping stones on becoming a better writer.

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  2. It's totally natural for that first gut reaction to hurt--we are human, after all! I think the key is exactly as you said, to be able to take a step back and learn from the hard stuff.

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  3. If I'm just told how great something is, I don't trust it. Every piece of writing can use improvement. But I'd never be in a critique group with someone who belittles me and me work. Simon Cowell may be entertaining, but he's not touching my manuscript!

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  4. Theresa, lol! I read on your blog that you had some feedback from agents that didn't accept your work. Some people would have seen that as a Simon Cowell moment, but you seem to see the good that comes out of it (helpful feedback).

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  5. I, for one, will miss Simon. I don't enjoy negative criticism if it offers valuable advice. I can generally use it. I do hate those critiques that belittle me, those usually send my confidence into a tail-spin. I do want constructive criticism good or bad.

    I've just found you, Tina. I've been running through previous posts, I've signed up for your newsletter, and I've thanked God that I found this wonderfully useful site.

    Winona Cross

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  6. Oh the torment of youth, the belief that what we have to say and how we say will change the world, touch the coldest heart or heal the deepest wound...then someone reads out work and laughs or worse, offers their critique! OUCH!! But with age comes wisdom. Wisdom embraces self acceptance and suddenly the critic is welcomed into your world. With an open mind and self acceptance, growth becomes possible! The seed of youth has germinated! Great website Tina...you are so inspiring!

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