Why Constructive Criticism is GREATER THAN Praise

Welcome! I’m A. E. and this is my blog where I talk about writing and give writing advice and tips, share stories about the writing life, and give updates on my novels, both upcoming releases or current works in progress.

Today I want to talk about why constructive criticism is > praise. I do think this post will be more like preaching to the choir for established writers, but for beginners or those who are shifting from hobbyists to want-to-be professional writers, it’ll be informative and hopefully even eye-opening.

First I want to say is that I know I’ve talked so much crap about the UWG creative writing department, as if they didn’t teach me anything. Which isn’t true. They taught me plenty, because they clearly knew what they were talking about, they loved the craft of writing and the power of words and did their best to bestow it on us wannabe writers. I soaked in what was helpful and true and honest about their teaching, and I learned a lot more than I had learned while writing without it.

I want to talk about one of the biggest and best things they taught me: criticism is better than praise.

This is a lesson that every writer needs to learn. Praise makes you feel good, but it doesn’t teach you anything, nor help you become a better writer. Kind of like eating a piece of cake tastes good, but if you eat too much you get sick. Too much praise makes you sick, because then you’re conceited or arrogant about your writing. I’m not sure if that analogy works, but hopefully you get the idea.

So when I first started publishing my writing, it was on fanfiction sites, I used several different ones though now my work is only on Archive of Our Own (and no, I’m not telling you my username!).

Continuing, putting my stories up on the internet was the first time I had my writing shared with the public beyond just friends or family. So I asked for reviews or comments or whatever, so I’d know if people liked my story.

At one point, one of the commenters, who really didn’t like my story, told me I was asking for praise and really let me have it on why my story was so bad. I was hurt of course, but I also knew this commenter was right. I did only want to hear that people were loving and enjoying my story.

Still, I didn’t really understand the importance of getting actual feedback rather than heaps of praise. That didn’t happen until 2013, when I first went to UWG and took the Creative Process class, which I mentioned last time.

I’ll be honest, the first time I was told to edit my work, I did get offended. Who was this person to tell me this or that needed to be changed? I’m the writer, only I know what my story needs. Yet the moment I made the changes, I realized my story was better. The changes made more sense than what I had previously.

I quickly began to see the value in proofreading, editing and revision. Professor N taught about the differences between the three, and while I did proofread before the class, I realized I didn’t do editing or revising.

When we had our first workshop, I eagerly awaited getting the critique responses back. Why? Because this time I wanted to hear what could improve my story, rather than be told it was great the way it was (which it wasn’t, by the way).

You see, having everyone telling you how awesome your work is only means you’ll keep doing the same thing over and over, and honestly, it’s probably not as good as you think. Once you take in a bunch of constructive criticism you can make the work better than it was before.

And that’s the goal, isn’t it? Making our work better. Polishing our work and making it the best it can be.

If you’re a hobbyist who writes for themselves, and doesn’t show their work to anyone, then that’s A-Okay. But if you’re a writer who intends to let people besides friends and family read their work, whether for free online or publishing professionally, you should really look into getting constrictive criticism.

Friends and family will praise you, even if your work isn’t that great, the fact is they don’t want to antagonize you or make you hate them by telling you the truth (that it kinda sucks). So have some cake when they praise you. Then get constructive criticism from others, like a beta-reader or a writing group and learn how to make your work even better. And then you might actually earn all the praise.

What do you think? Would you rather get praise than constructive criticism? Do you see the value in someone pointing out flaws in your work? Do you know a fellow writer who reacts angrily when you tell them this or that about their work? Do you know a family member or friend who only ever tells you how good your work is but nothing else?

Reach out to someone like a beta-reader and ask them to read your work, and give you tips on making it even better. You might like your newly revised work better than what you had originally.

However I want to end that there is good criticism and bad criticism. I call it constructive vs. destructive criticism. I’ll talk about the differences between the two, and how to spot them another time.

See you next time!

And as always, while I write my cat Aomine keeps me company by my side.

she’s in bliss

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