Why most writers cannot accept criticism, and what to do about it
Written By: Megha Varier
“Do you have any insights to give our students”?, asked our professor to the guest lecturer for the day, before he ended his session on creative seeing.
“Eh, I do not wish to call it insight, but it is something that I picked up over the years. Never get attached to any of your works. Doing so would destroy both your work and your creative mind”.
Before he walked out of the class, he had taught us one of the most important lessons of all. I could completely associate with what he had said.
Early this year, when I took up my first job at a start-up newspaper as an intern reporter, I was pulled out from the environment of college magazines and publications to a more serious professional style of writing, where my every word had to go under the scrutiny of my Editor. I had always believed editing to be essential to polish any piece of writing, and I believed I was open to it.
Until my editor decided to cut down a sentence from my article, which was to go for print in a matter of few hours. That was my first article, and the editor tried to make it as smooth as possible. He summoned me to his desk, his desktop screen flashing my article. He provided a genuinely reasonable explanation as to why he thought it better to strike off this particular sentence in question. He selected the sentence, and with one strike of the backspace button…swiishh! The sentence disappeared.
I felt betrayed. I felt like he had just killed my child. I had spent hours putting the piece together. Yes, of course I was over reacting. I did not in the least suspect the intensions of my editor, no. As the editor, he thought it fit to edit out certain sentences or even paragraphs. That would help build the news story, I knew.
I suddenly felt detached to the piece, as if I hadn’t written it at all.
That is what the guest lecturer had meant when he said not to be attached to one’s work. When you become too consumed, one tends to ignore criticisms, even constructive ones that come our way. It’s like the blind love of a mother towards her child, you know, as some great poet said centuries back. When that happens, you feel you have lost connect with the piece you wrote. It doesn’t work that way, though. Editing strengthens and polishes a piece, makes it presentable.
One of my friends said recently, when showing me her published articles pointed out one particular story that she had written over two years ago, and read out a sentence saying that the editor has changed the sentence structure, she hadn’t written it that way. I could sense the same feeling that had crossed me in a similar experience. It was a book review that she had written. I could see the piece was hers, she had researched on it quite a lot, put in effort and written the piece, but then she felt a detachment towards it now, a kind unbeknownst to herself. That, in a way, helped her. She is now open to comments on the work. She is no longer unnecessarily attached to it.
So, let us take this as the first step towards being a writer, a good one. As far as possible, try not to cling to your work, be it of any kind, not only literary ones. Be it anything under the sun, only when we stand back and look at things from afar, can we realize things we would never understand, by looking at the same thing standing close by.
This happens not only with the process of editing. Why do you think we feel bad when confronted with a negative comment? If you haven’t yet asked yourself this question, then may be, this is the right time to do it. It is like birth and death, you see. Once you take birth, you are to die some day. Likewise, every bit of your creative output is bound to be analyzed, criticized and commented upon. Therefore, never must a writer or any creative person for that matter, reject criticisms. Criticism is not a bad word, you know. It helps us grow and develop.
On a visit to my under-graduate college, the renowned writer Jayasree Misra, the author of Afterwards, Ancient Promises, etc and Tharun James Jimani, the author of Cough Syrup Surrealism shared their private joke on stage, about how on their transit from the airport to our campus, a bee flew in through the pulled down car window to disturb their conversation. They narrated the incident to us likening the unexpected arrival of the bee to that of the nature of a critique.
One must also remember that it is not easy to keep one’s work detached from oneself. That comes with constant practice. So even if the first time your attempt fails, do not be disheartened, my friend.
Explore. Write. Live more.
P.S. I wouldn’t be disheartened if the editor decides to cut down my words, or decide to not even publish it.
Megha Varier belongs to Kerala. She is currently pursuing Masters in Mass Communication from Symbiosis Institute of Media and Commincation, Pune.
Google+ profile : https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MeghaVarier
Blog : activeminds7.blogspot.in
Author: Shuchi Singh Kalra