Thursday, June 2, 2011

When Criticism breeds Strength

I’ll never forget the day I sat through my first peer critique in college. It was my first creative writing course and I’d spent weeks agonizing over what to write. I ended up with a corny children’s bedtime story, that while fun to write, I was terrified to show others and hear what they truly thought. Not only did I make myself sick over it, I ended up calling one of my closest guy friends and filling his voicemail with tears because there was no doubt in my mind the entire class would hate it. It was the first time I’d ever contemplated skipping class.

The way the critique worked was simple: everyone got a copy of my story the class prior to my critique date. On judgment day I had to read the story aloud and then sit silently while each of my classmates commented on what worked for them and what didn’t. If I opened my mouth to defend or explain myself, I’d be docked points; afterwards I could ask a couple of questions for clarification on anything that was said.

To be honest, it was less traumatic an event than I’d made it out to be and I’ve since adopted the credo “The fear of the thing is worse than the thing itself.” Many of my classmates really enjoyed the concept of my story and my professor suggested I learn more about writing for young readers because he thought I had talent in that direction. A classmate even asked to take my story home for his son.

The reason I remember that day so vividly is because it is the day I learned the value of constructive criticism. It also formed the first layer of skin I would require to make my way as a writer. I’ve gone through many more critiques since then, some more pleasant than others, but I quickly discovered that I learn more from having someone point out my weak spots than by receiving pats on the back. I need honest eyes because I tend to overlook or justify obvious flaws in my storytelling. It also helped prepare me for the rejection slips that would later come my way.

I believe learning how to handle critiques of my work early on has been one of the most beneficial lessons I’ve learned. It’s taught me to separate what is being said about my work from how I think about myself. It has also encouraged me to look at my writing through a different point of view. Because of this, it is much easier to pick up my pen and get to work rewriting after receiving a generic “Thank you, but not today.”

And besides, I’ve had enough Yeses to prove to me that when I put my mind to it, I’ve got what it takes to stay in this game.


  1. Great attitude to have, Jennifer! Nice to meet you, I look forward to your posts. Have a great weekend!

  2. Thank you, Michelle. It's a pleasure to meet you, as well! Happy writing!