Dealing With Criticism

I love almost everything about writing. I love being creative, I love working with creative people. I love seeing how my words translate into a cover and how my plots get condensed into a “back of the book blurb.” I love the feel of the computer keys beneath my fingers (though they have to be the right keys – spaced apart, not shoved together, keys that make noise when I hit them).

I don’t love, however, the criticism that comes with being a writer. I am fortunate to have been a teacher before I was a writer. And to have been in ministry before either of those occupations. In ministry, in teaching, and in writing, people feel free to criticize, to point out what you do wrong and what you could do to make it better.

I don’t want to minimize constructive criticism – we all need that desperately. I ask my students every year how I can improve as a teacher. I hope every year that I will do a better job than I did the year before. The same with writing. I want my next book to be better than my last. I want to learn from those who have been writing longer than I and continue to hone this craft. In teaching and in writing, I will never “arrive,” but I do hope to continually improve.

But criticism isn’t always constructive. I’ve gotten stuff like:”This book is terrible,” “Offensive!” “I can’t believe someone published this junk.” The kind that makes me want to throw away my computer, curl into a ball and eat an entire chocolate cake in one sitting.

Even if you’re not a writer (or a teacher or in ministry), you still face criticism. The good kind, coming from people who love you and want to see you be even better than you are now, and the negative kind. So how do you handle it?

First – determine what kind of criticism it is. Is this coming from someone who cares for you? Is it a mom saying, “You are too smart to get a D in math.” Or is it a jerk saying, “You’re the dumbest girl in class?” If it’s the former – listen! I was lazy in school, doing the absolute minimum, especially in my math classes. My parents did everything they could to make me work harder. But I didn’t listen. And I suffered the consequences – being forced to take remedial math classes in college because my skills were so low. Once I applied myself, though, I made A’s — in every math class I took. My parents were right! I was too smart to get a D in math. I wish I had listened to them.

If the criticism isn’t the good kind, if the person giving it doesn’t know you or care about you, isn’t telling you this to make you a better person….ignore them! This is hard, I know. Especially if it’s coming from someone whose good opinion you want. But there are people who thrive on criticizing others. Many times it is because they have been unfairly criticized, they are angry, hurt, and they need to make someone else feel bad to make themselves feel better. These people are to be pitied, to be prayed for. But they are not the kind of people we should give power to. Don’t let their words hurt you or keep you from doing what you want to do, what you feel God has called you to do.

And that’s the bottom line: the only opinion that truly matters is God’s. When we get caught up in what others think, our own thinking is skewed. We can think the worst of ourselves or we can think too highly of ourselves. Neither of those is healthy. We should be content with who we are, and we should be seeking to become more like Christ. We should listen to the voices that matter and tune out the ones that don’t.

1 Comment

  1. Kristen Swanson
    Dec 20, 2012

    You have no idea how much I needed this today…thanks so much for writing it!

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