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Let Your Critics Be Your Best Friends

This guest post is by Barb Sawyers of Sticky Communication.

When I first started to write professionally, I hated people editing my work. To deal with these personal attacks, I would rant, cry, drink too much, and otherwise freak out.

But one day I parked my ego long enough to realize that many of these editors were highly skilled. Others knew more about the subject or the organization’s perspective than I did. I needed them.

Working in corporate communication, I was still stuck with the busy-bodies who felt they had to contribute to the tangle of edits that approvals processes create. A few were convinced they were “adding value” by inserting lame jargon or grammar mistakes.

These ego critics drove me crazy, still do. But the wise ones helped me become a better writer, still do. That’s why I seek out people with the skill and tough attitude to give me the criticism I need.

Seek out tough critics

With blogging and other content marketing, the more relaxed approach means many of us are spared the pain of the ego editors. But unless we’re writing for places with lots of editorial involvement, some of us don’t receive the guidance that would help us reach the next level.

We may ask blog buddies to review our work for typos and glaring problems. But how many of these friends are skilled, knowledgeable, and strong enough to deliver the blows to demolish what’s weak so we can replace it with something better?

Few people enjoy constructive criticism, but anyone who wants to become a better at blogging (or pretty much anything in life) has to learn how to handle the petty know-it-alls, open up to the wise ones, and grow. Many young people whose parents piled on the self-esteem building trophies have trouble with this.

Practice helps, too

But if young bloggers and content marketers combine this awareness with all the practice they get, now that everyone is tethered to a computer or similar device, what a force they can be.

I see my teenagers writing all the time, texting to friends and chatting online. I’ve been closely watching the blossoming of my daughter Maddy, who will be going to university this fall. In addition to her natural talent, Maddy gets top marks for her essays and other written material because she’s getting comfortable with having her ideas and writing challenged.

For example, with a recent paper about literary censorship she read various perspectives and tossed them around in her head. Then, over a pleasant meal, she told me what she was thinking about writing. I challenged her, not to be controlling or mean, but to encourage her to refine her thinking.

After dinner, she wrote her first draft. The next day, she asked me to take a look.

In addition to pointing out the grammar flubs and awkward phrases, I told her where her arguments were weak or her connections loose. Without me, her talent would have carried her. But because she opened herself to constructive criticism, she went farther.

Separate the wise from the wacky

Better still, her fellow students in her Writers’ Craft course critique each other. Let me confess that at first I didn’t enjoy seeing these kids nitpick an essay I’d reviewed. But most of them made good points, we agreed. Maddy ignored suggestions from the ego editors only when she could make a strong case to her teacher.

If she’s going to work in any field that involves writing, and so many do, she’ll have to learn from other people, defend herself, and sometimes suck it up. I hope she starts out with thicker skin and a more open mind than I did.

This constructive criticism, let me add, is a two-way street. As a freelance writer who should have her work checked before it goes to a client or my blog, I appreciated being able to ask my daughter to help. Far more valuable than catching my typos is her frequent comment: “Mom, this doesn’t make sense.”

I’m already worried about what I’m going to do once my favorite critic leaves home. Thank goodness our wired world means we can stay connected between Toronto and Montreal.

Bring it on

While I enjoy the “awesome post”-type comments, I love people who argue, suggest, or otherwise add to the discussion.

So readers, please tell me how you would improve this post or challenge my advice. I need you.

Toronto writer, blogger and educator Barb Sawyers is the author of Write Like You Talk Only Better, the secret to pulling ideas out of your head and onto the page.

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Comments

  1. My best tip is to DETACH when you are hearing criticism. It’s not about YOU, it’s about the writing: two entirely separate things.

    You make an excellent point, Barb, when you point out the importance of separating the wise from the wacky (great subhead, by the way!!) I’ve often found lawyers to be the worst editors — they’re so concerned with deflecting lawsuits that they can’t write a straight sentence!

    I’ve also written about how to deal with criticism (aka: editing) here: http://bit.ly/IJ3EUr

    • David Deke says:

      Yeah, I had to understand “everyone is a critic”. For example: When I create a video and upload it to youtube, I don’t want to see the comments, due to uninformed, unintelligent viewers, that don’t have a clue.
      When I was in customer service, people love to argue and cuss you out over the phone, but, over the counter in the store, it was totally another story.

  2. Bob Duryea says:

    I like how you take such a personal experience and rather in negating value of constructive criticism, you praise the growth provided. Such an important concept to teach our youth, or others, who in many ways can be the most difficult critics of all. As a beginning writer important to remember once reaches editing.
    Thank you ,
    Bob Duryea

  3. Hi Barb,

    The best teachers offer advice in a tactful manner.

    One step down from this crowd are people who offer advice with a bit more emotional charge. These people usually hate being criticized, so they dole it out on you. If you learn awesome lessons from these folks, all the better. It’s just they lack the wisdom to deliver the lesson in a tactful, compassionate manner.

    One step down, are people who simply want you to fail – out of jealousy – who offer you destructive criticism. Ideas that do not help. Avoid this crowd like the plague.

    I do not mind the low energy critique once in a while. Causes me to re-assess my belief in self, and what I do. It helps me dig a little deeper and search for areas where I can improve my writing.

    Critics usually intend to help, not to hurt, even if they lack social skills. Really, the best critiques are those situations you learn lessons from. So in essence, you can pretty much learn a lesson from anyone, in any situation.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Barb.

    Ryan Biddulph

  4. Slavko Desik says:

    It was also compelling for me to read some negative comments on the start. But I learned to differentiate one from another. There are those that focus on something and give valuable argument or point the mistake you made, and those that are just full of negativity while lacking in point.

    Learning to be able to grow from ones, and distance yourself from another in the way you don’t take them by hearth is the best thing someone can do while building his or her online presence. And we all know what online presence means nowadays.

  5. Barb Sawyers says:

    Spot the typo, pointed out by one of my best friend/critics, and I’ll send you a free e-copy of my book. The Where’s Waldo? of blog reading.

    • Kylie Healey says:

      I’ll take a stab, thanks goodness? I really needed to search.

      My biggest criticism that has come my way is proof reading, or lack there of. I think we become blind to our work and find it easy to miss the simplest of mistakes. I find I need to leave a post for a day or three so it is fresh before I post.

  6. Dan Smith says:

    This isn’t going to be an argument comment, or a “great post” comment. I just got a critic of my blog writing and it’s a reader I don’t even know. The guy (I think he’s a he), challenges me constantly about my writing, which has led to a few rewritten posts. This is a great reminder that I can get better, and that I have a lot further to go. Hopefully my writing stalker sticks around long enough to see it.

  7. Well, I would love to offer an intelligent sounding critique and tell you how the structure or format of your post is well.. unstructured or not formatted. But all I can say is ‘awesome post!’ :)

    I agree with you completely, Barb. I am a member of this online forum and nothing frustrates me more than those who claim they need help but go on attack mode at the slightest hint of criticism, even if it is advice they desperately need to move forward.

  8. Mark Butler says:

    Great points, all.

    And since you’re kind enough to ask for feedback, I’ll tell you your opening thoughts would have been much stronger if you’d have shared an anecdote of when someone criticized your writing, it really rubbed you the wrong way, but you concluded the feedback was sound and you were better off for having heard it.

    Real, personal stories are so entertaining and engaging (to me, as a reader).

    The more blog posts I read, the more I find myself thinking “I wish this post were half as long and twice as personal.” Not referring to your post specifically, just thinking how much I enjoy it when people share “this is what I did, this is how I felt, this is what I changed in order to rectify the problem” kinds of things.

    Enjoyed your thoughts!

  9. I like this approach. So many of us are quick to overlook the critics of everyone else, but if we truly want to grow we are going to have to embrace our critics instead of run away from them.

  10. Chiara says:

    Love this. I’m just now getting into writing professionally and this has been something I’ve been struggling with. (I’m arrogant and protective of my thoughts). Thank you for this!

  11. Gjivan says:

    Definitely an inspiring post. We can’t ignore criticism or critics cz these are the term which helps us to point out our weakness about our progress. Its obvious, as being a human nature, we are not always right. Instead of taking criticism pessimistically, we can use it as a power to improve our online performance and presence. So, the better approach can be able to adjust and transform the criticism into optimism!!!

  12. Binny Oinam says:

    Hi Barb
    I haven’t quite been showing around what I write to anybody and I have to admit I am quite a publish-buttton happy guy and I, most of the times, end up with a post which needed many tweak here & there. It’s definitely a must to have someone, a friend or your spouse to have a look at your post before you hit the publish button because we tend to overlook many things & are generally quite absorbed with ourselves. Losing the perspective of a potential reader, we often end up satisfying our ego. And the idea of getting someone knowledgable to do the job, as you pointed out, is indeed very true.

  13. Johnny says:

    Exactly. You simply have to forget about your feelings when getting a critic’s response.

  14. In my blog, I haven’t still encounter critics and I’m waiting for them hehe! I agree with you that we should learn how to handle the petty know-it-alls,and be open up to the wise ones, and grow. . Not only in blogging, but also in life, we need to handle these types so we can be better in what we do. In this field, blogging. Constructive criticisms also lead to collaboration as some artists says.

  15. I think this is among the most vital info for me. And i
    am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The web site style is great, the articles
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  16. Kristoffer says:

    Definitely a great post. I try to openly ask for opinions on my posts, but I would love to have someone around who gave my posts a read before they go live, so I could make sure it all makes sense, etc.

  17. Nice Guest post Barb!
    I feel like this is SO much easier said than done. For one, your critics sometimes are nothing short of idiots. They are uninformed, wrong on their info and do not back up opinions if you disagree. Sure, some critics can be extremely helpful but some of these critics do nothing more than act irrationality towards you with comments they can’t backup. I wish I could find time to make critics my friends. Instead, they push me to hatred!

  18. saha says:

    its great article. thanks for your information.

  19. fltcher says:

    My biggest criticism that has come my way is proof reading. thank god!!!

  20. CamMi Pham says:

    Your best friend is your worst enemy….and your worst enemy can be your best friend
    Great post

  21. Thank you, Barb, for this wonderful post. An excellent reminder to keep our ego out of the way and focus on growing as writers!

  22. Marc Ensign says:

    This is a much needed lesson for a lot of bloggers. I had commented on a blog not too long ago respectfully disagreeing with one or two of the points in the post. Several people had clicked “like” for my comment…it was a well thought out comment and it wasn’t as if I was just disagreeing for the sake of being difficult. Yet, I received a verbal smack down from the author of the post like you have never seen. I cleared my throat and responded again to clarify my position and he responded by folding his arms and just telling me that I didn’t “get it.” The end result is that he gets to be right…after all, it’s his blog. Unfortunately it cost him at least one active reader. Who knows how many people saw his response as unnecessary and walked away as well!

  23. My best tip is to DETACH when you are hearing criticism. It’s not about YOU, it’s about the writing: two entirely separate things.

    You make an excellent point, Barb, when you point out the importance of separating the wise from the wacky (great subhead, by the way!!) I’ve often found lawyers to be the worst editors — they’re so concerned with deflecting lawsuits that they can’t write a straight sentence!