On October 11, Tamela Hancock Murray posted a blog entitled Handling Criticism (http://stevelaube.com/handling-criticism/). Receiving criticism is hard for everyone. It’s difficult to not view criticism of our work as personal criticism of ourselves. She gave suggestions and guidelines for receiving criticism.
Today, I’d like to look at the four areas she mentioned from the perspective of the person giving the criticism. I’m going to add a fifth.
Do I know the person well enough to make my criticism something they would listen to? If I’m reviewing their work for the first time, I may need to hold back until I get more of a feel for them and their writing. See how they respond to feedback from others. Are they defensive or open? At first, I may want to focus on giving positive feedback until our relationship is stronger. Seek ways to help them develop the necessary thick skin so they can assess and process criticism to make their writing better.
Do I have enough knowledge about the industry and the writer’s genre to give meaningful feedback? If someone is writing a thriller—which I don’t write but I enjoy reading—I will point to thriller authors I like such as Steven James and Brandilyn Collins for examples of how to handle things like maintaining tension and suspense over several chapters. My knowledge of Amish is very limited because I don’t read it, so my criticism will be more generally craft related.
Sometimes how I deliver my criticism will negate the good my actual words may contain, especially if I don’t know the writer that well. I try to listen as I give feedback in a group and I re-read comments if I’m doing an online or hard copy critique. I watch the writer for nonverbals that tell me how I’m being received it. Am I coming across arrogant, prideful, condescending? Are my attempts at humor falling flat? Can I see the writer closing down, pulling into a shell? If I see that, I’ll try to find out if it’s the content or the delivery that is causing them problems.
This has been a theme through the previous three points. In many ways, it’s easier to give criticism to a friend because we know them, we know how they receive criticism, and we’ve learned, over time, how to phrase our feedback to be its most effective. When new writers enter our group or ask our help, take the time to get to know them. Ask what they write and why. Let them tell you about themselves, their experiences, their testimonies. Before you critique, explain your usual style and then modify that style as needed while you build the relationship.
This is an additional area we need to consider.
Why am I giving this criticism? Am I speaking just to hear my voice? Do I have something different or unique to offer? Do I have this person’s best interests at heart? Or, am I trying to show how much better I am? Am I bragging or showing off?