Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everbody's a Critic: Types of Criticism

via Flickr

To learn to handle criticism, you must begin by separating the crap from the cream. Because you don't want to waste your time on the crap. The crap is not helpful.

So let's identify what's what. There are two types of criticism that we're concerned with: constructive criticism and destructive criticism.

Constructive criticism is the type of criticism we all need. It's what helps us grow as writers. This is the cream.

This criticism targets the work—not the author—and should involve both positive and negative comments that are relatively well-reasoned. That is, not solely based on gut or emotional reactions.

For instance, you, Anonymous Critic, may feel a little ill from descriptions in a horror story.

Your feelings are valid, but they don't necessarily mean the descriptions aren't right for the story. But feel free to mention it as something that struck you.

The writer might be pleased to have had such an impact. That could have been their goal.

Destructive criticism is exactly what it sounds like. (This is the crap.) It's the type of criticism that leaves you wishing its giver had simply piled up your
notebooks, pens and laptop, doused them with kerosene and set them on fire. (Okay. Maybe nothing quite that dramatic.)

This criticism may attack the work, the author, or it might be aimed at both.

While there could be a seed of truth in this criticism, you're probably not going to want to put on your wading boots to find it.

Destructive criticism is sometimes the method of a well meaning but thoughtless person (someone who likes "harsh truths," perhaps). But in my experience, I mostly find it to be the method of bullies and assholes; it's intended to wear you down.

So, there's the gist of it. Constructive criticism is work-focused and provides detailed critique of what could be done better. Destructive criticism may be work-focused but, at best, it leaves you with a lot of "don't do thats!" and little to no understanding of why someone found a problem with what you wrote.

As a writer, you're looking for the constructive. You're looking for something to help you grow, to be better.

But as you know (or as you'll learn), even constructive criticism can sting.

Just remember to pause, breathe, and ask yourself: does this criticism help build something better or does it only tear down what I've created? Take the first group into consideration, set the rest aside. Cream. Crap. Got it?

Up next, I'm writing about good critics versus bad critics. After all, as writers, we don't just get criticism, we also tend to give it. Knowing the pitfalls of the bad critic not only makes us better critics, it helps us know what gems to look for when someone's taking a red pen to our work.

(If you missed it, part one is here: Everybody's a Critic.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

First Days

Last month, I mentioned I'd been training for a new job.

Well, I passed my training. Aced it, actually. (And I wish acing something gave me the oomph of confidence you'd think it would.)

Today, I started work doing real time transcription for deaf and hard of hearing students.

Yeah. That's pretty much what it looks like. (Image via Flickr)

This is an entirely new area of work for me. I've been wanting to break into transcription for a while, having done some of it during my old job, but real time transcription wasn't something that entered my head until I saw the job advertisement.

I enjoyed the training. I enjoy the challenge of learning something new and forcing myself to get better at it.

And after all these years, you'd think I'd have forced myself to get better at first days.

But, no. Despite all the practice I've had with "first days," from the many moves I made as a military brat, to the challenge of each new school year and each new job, first days still make me feel like the most socially inept person in the world.


Though I've come to realize, the little voice calling me out on things that no one else noticed (probably) is that same little voice that likes to nitpick the hell out of my writing. Yes. My Inner Critic (IC) knows no bounds.

I'm resolving to not let it bother me.


And I'm sure by the time I go back to work on Wednesday, I'll have a whole host of new things for my IC to pick at and my first day will be but a brief moment in the past.

Do your first days engage your inner critic? How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Colorful Fiction

Looking for some short, colorful reads? Check out Nailpolish Stories: A Tiny And Colorful Literary Journal

And I'm not just saying this because I have some pieces up in this quarter's issue. Really.

Pay It Forward

Sara's near the front of the line at The Bent Cover when she spies, among the nearby stacks, a little girl who is the spitting image of herself at seven years old, from the plaited hair and jelly shoes right down to the Big Beautiful Book of Cats clutched in her hands and the way she looks at her dad and says "Please, daddy, can I have it?" 

Daddy is no more than 20, smooth skinned and weary eyed, wearing jeans that have shiny spots from too many washes, an old paint-stained t-shirt, and browsing a high school equivalency study guide. He tilts the book in her hands, grimaces at the bright orange price sticker exploding off the front cover. Sara hears him murmur that old familiar refrain about "only coming in here for one thing." 

But if that little girl is as much like Sarah as she looks.... And there she goes. There are no tears, just that wide eyed look of longing that only little girls under 10 seem to be able to pull off. 

Sara watches and tries not to seem like she's watching. After the space of two heartbeats, Daddy takes the book and gets into line, just as the cashier calls "Next" and Sara pulls out her credit card. 

When Daddy and daughter reach the checkout, they will find their books paid for and a year's membership to The Bent Cover's children's book club waiting for them. 

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