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.)


L. M. Leffew said...

Nailed it. I have trouble with giving criticism. I'm self-conscious of the impact anything negative might have on the writer, and I'm gun-shy from having well-intentioned and carefully-worded criticism brutally attacked, out here on the interwebs. Anyway, I liked this.

L. M. Leffew said...

Glad you enjoyed.

The relative anonymity of the internet can be....problematic, with both giving and receiving criticism.

Sometimes I think con crit is best expressed in person, where people can hear your tone and see your body language. Of course, that isn't always possible.

The last couple of posts in this series talk about dealing with and responding to criticism, so I'll touch on the "attacking the critic" bit then.

L. M. Leffew said...

This is wonderful advice. I will take it to heart as I participate in an online memoir-writing class where we are expected to critique each others work. Thank you.

L. M. Leffew said...

Thank you. I hope it's helpful.

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