August question of the month

GOOD CRITICISM VERSES BAD — How can you tell the difference?
Like most writers I welcome constructive criticism designed to improve my writing and make my stories come alive. I belong to a critique group that has helped my writing enormously. However, I frankly resent snide comments offered by jealous people who wish they’d written the story but didn’t and comfort themselves by tearing it apart.
How can we writers tell the difference? And how should we handle unwelcome hurtful comments so they do not make us feel bad? First accept that there are people who wish you well and others who want to hurt you. Then ask yourself, did you request the advice or is it uninvited? Is the person offering the criticism another writer or a want-to-be writer? What is the intention of the person offering the advice? If the advice is useful, use it. If it is just mean-spirited nastiness take a lesson from my daughter Egypt.
She is a professional dancer, standup comedian, actress and film maker who has lived and performed in both New York and Los Angeles. Egypt was home for a visit several years ago when the Alvin Ailey Dancers were performing at the local college. She’d studied dance with Alvin Ailey in New York and wanted to go to the ballet and say “hello” to some of her old friends. She dressed appropriately for a night at the ballet. She is very photogenic and looked beautiful in fancy hairdo, black dress, heels and shawl.
During intermission a young woman, wearing worn sweat shirt, pants and old sneakers sauntered up, bumped into her with her shoulder and taunted, “You’re kinda overdressed aren’t you, Honey?”
Egypt fixed the woman with a cold, haughty and distasteful stare as if she had just stepped in something disgusting and said. “You have no idea who you are talking to, Do you?”
The woman’s posture sagged instantly and crumbled in upon itself. She was visibly ashamed of herself and mumbled, “No.” She slunk off to a corner where I am sure she felt bad for the rest of the evening.
“Wow. How did you do that?” I asked. “If somebody had said that to me I would have been embarrassed and felt awkward all night thinking maybe I was overdressed.”
“Well she doesn’t know who she is talking to. For all she knows I could be a member of the dance troupe. She has no business talking to someone she doesn’t know like that. She’s the one who should feel bad for being rude, not me. I’ll bet she never does that again,” my daughter said.
I agree — that woman will think twice before she approaches another stranger with an unsolicited comment founded in jealousy.
So how do we as writers recognize comments motivated by jealousy and ignore them or turn them back on the person with the bad intentions so that he or she thinks twice before acting ignorant to someone else? I’ve always found that if an unsolicited comment pushes an emotional button, makes me feel small, hurts my feelings or seems to put me down it probably is motivated by less than good intentions. Although I am not always successful I try to ignore the mean comments because above all a writer has to believe in his/her own writing and constant suppressive criticism can wear away at one’s self esteem and the writing suffers.
Dixie Thomas Reale

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One response to “August question of the month

  1. I really enjoyed your story about how your daughter handles unwanted criticism, she sounds very confident and successful. Congrats! Very helpful story!

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