Friday, January 25, 2013

Taking Criticism

Hello you and helloooooo weekend!
So, I’m wonderinghow do you take constructive criticism? 

Do you see it as an opportunity for growth? Do you feel like it's a personal attack on you? Or does your experience land you somewhere in between?

One of my weaknesses has always been my sensitivity to criticism, whether constructive or not. I'm sure my brothers and parents would agree. 

When I was about nine, I sat on the living room floor listening to my dad and older brother read personality characteristics of Aquariuses. I'm an Aquarius.  The book mentioned Aquariuses were quirky, sensitive, and well, different..."drumming to their own beat." 

My dad and brother laughed (I thought hysterically) and I felt embarrassed, angry.  I reacted in a sensitive way - whining and threatening to leave the room - further supporting the description, causing more laughter.

I'm creeping up to 40 years old and I remember the incident clearly.  Obviously, I'm a bit sensitive.  I've known it's something I've needed to work on.  Even my Myers-Briggs personality test results (INFP) points it out; according to The Personality Page, INFPs:
  • May be extremely sensitve to any kind of criticism
  • May perceive criticism where none was intended

Things are changing for me, though.  I'm becoming tougher and better able to accept feedback that I'd normally find difficult to receive.  

There are a few things I've done over the last several months to help:
  • Joined a writing group in Yangon. We give each other supportive, but constructive, feedback.

  • Sought professional critiques from an author and literary agent on a children's picture book manuscript I wrote. You can read how that turned out here

  •  Sought feedback on the same manuscript from multiple friends, peers, writers, artists, and family members. (Eek!)

These are situations I've avoided in the past. I was too scared.  What if someone didn't like my writing? What if they thought I was crap?  Well, I pushed myself through those fears and I've been proud of that.  Still, I've known I have more pushing to do. 

I chose the words ignite and glow to guide me this year instead of resorting to New Year resolutions. (More here and here.)

Part of igniting means growing a self-confidence that is deeply rooted. Unshakeable. Unmovable.  Not so easy for this girl.

Growing that confidence from the bottom up, from the heart out, will bring many benefits, including not being super sensitive to positive, constructive feedback/criticism.

So, it's been interesting that over the last few weeks, I've felt a shift.  A change. I've been more bold, more brave putting myself in positions where I could get slapped down fast and hard.  I've:

  • Submitted my poetry to four literary magazines.
  • Given that children's picture book manuscript to a big NY editor at a big publishing house. 
  •  I've asked people for support when I was scared about the second bullet point.

The results? 

Well, one of the literary magazines got back to me the following day...which was super fast. I was told the poems I submitted weren't what they were "seeking for inclusion" in their magazine.  BUT!  I was also told they enjoyed my voice and highlighted a particular poem they liked. They wrote,  "We very much look forward to reading more from you in the future and encourage you to try us again."

In the past, I would've only focused on the submission "rejection." I would've felt sad and doubted myself.  

You know what?  I didn't. I felt grateful and happy and proud. I didn't view it as a rejection. I focused only on the fact they liked my poetic voice and that they asked me to submit in the future. That's a compliment. That's encouragement. That's super good news!

I had a similar experience with the NY editor from the big publishing house. She read my manuscript, which is miraculous in and of itself. If you know much about children's lit, you know it's painstakingly difficult - almost impossible - to get an editor to read your manuscript. This editor was generous. Not only did she read my manuscript, she made comments on it, then met with me in person to discuss.  (That is a BIG DEAL.)

Her feedback was thoughtful, not rushed. She asked a series of poignant questions to help me get more clear. She didn't slap me down. She didn't say it was great, either.  The story wasn't strong enough for her to take it further without further work.

Did that break my heart? NO! Instead, I thought, "I've got some work to do!" 

Not once did I feel myself flush or think awful things like, "See, you're a crap writer. You can't do this. Why are you wasting your time?!" The disappearance of that voice was new.

It didn't show its ugly little face. I was able to listen with an open heart. After all, I asked for the feedback. I wanted to know if I was barking up the wrong tree trying to get a picture book published. 

Later, she was kind enough to tell me I was a good writer and the invited me to submit the story (re-worked) or other manuscripts/writing to her directly in the future. 

That, my friends, is...uh...amazing

It's also amazing I have not felt sorry for myself or overly sensitive or thought that I am no good. In fact, I've felt the opposite. 

In fact, it felt validating. It felt like I was legit.  A working writer.  (Crazy, I know.)  Who knew?!  

What about you? What are strategies you use to help take-in constructive criticism?


  1. This is great Becky! I've been rejected for a couple of shows this past year. At first I was bummed, but after some thinking..I see that those shows really weren't my audience...just wasn't right for my business. Putting yourself out there is the key. There is a lot of trial and error...but as long as we keep moving forward and don't let the criticism bring us down, but rather empower us to be even better, it's a win! I'm so thrilled with everything going on with your writing right now. Big movement for you. By the way, when is your Birthday? Mine is January 29. I'll be 39! Happy Birthday Aquarians! I'm proud to drum to my own beat.

    1. Thank you, Amy. :)

      I really enjoyed reading about how you were able to decide that after you didn't get into certain shows, they just weren't the ones for you. I think that's fab. :)

      Happy Birthday to you (yesterday)! I hope you had a special day.

      My bday is this Friday, Feb. 1st :)

  2. Love this post, Becky, and it shows how much you have grown as an artist.

    I try hard to look at criticism as something that is not about me. Remove my ego from the words being told to me. Listen with an open mind and turn it into something that can benefit me. Sounds lovely, right? Well, that's my goal. It's getting easier, but the first jolts are sometimes hard. However, the more we seek, the more we can grow.

    Shari :-)

    1. Hi Shari,

      Thank you for your comments + feedback. I agree with you that the best way is to listen with an open mind + turn it into something you can grow from. It's not always easy, but I do think that it is the way to go. :)

      Have a great day!

  3. What a lovely post. You know I am seeing you grow in leaps and bounds with everything you are doing and working through Becky. From reading your blog posts since last fall I am seeing you shine and work through so much. I am really seeing your true spirit shine through. As for being sensitive, that is a beautiful quality to have, but one that can be challenging because we feel so deeply and are so sensitive to what others tell us. I can relate. Hold on to those beautiful qualities. xo

  4. Hi Becky, thanks for the interesting website. I read that in terms of personality type, Burma is most suitable for INFPs:
    Of course it's probably a major generalisation but do you feel that is fairly accurate from living there? Cheers.


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