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How do you hold up under criticism?
Do you retreat? Retaliate? Get angry? Do you lose your breath?
No one likes to be criticized. Yet as you rise to the top of your AUTHOR LADDER, you will be watched with magnifying glasses. Readers will scrutinize your work closer. They will criticize your title, your characters, your plot line, but they will also criticize you more.
Think about a race. The leaders out front are watched, but those who stagger behind, who don’t threaten to win are ignored.
Leadership is a responsibility because you have to be the best example you can be–not just with the words you write, but in the way you handle yourself in all you do.
How will you handle criticism when it comes your way? Here are a few things to consider based on John Maxwell’s book, Leadership Gold.
1. Know yourself. This is a reality issue. The more you know yourself the easier it will be to successfully handle the criticism. First ask yourself: Is the person criticizing you or your writing style? The two are separate. If the person is jabbing at your writing style then you know not to take it personally. But if there is something they are pointing out about your writing that you can improve, stop and listen. Improving our craft should be an on-going task. But if they’re taking a stab at your character then listen. Are they right?
Sometimes those things we need to hear the most are the most difficult to hear. For instance, I’m impatient and I have to work at listening when others are talking because too often I’m thinking about what I’ll say next instead of engaging with my friend. My son called me out on this once, and I was glad he did. I needed to hear it.
The next question you should ask yourself is: What am I going to do about it?
2. Change yourself. This is a responsibility issue. When my son told me I didn’t listen to him I knew I needed to change. It was my responsibility to do something about it because my relationship with him mattered to me.
There are three things you should consider before listening to criticism:
a.) Who is criticizing? The source often matters. If an important editor gives you constructive criticism you might listen closer than you would if an unpublished friend did.
b.) How was the criticism given? Was the person being judgmental or acting out of kindness?
c.) Why was it given? Was the person lashing out to hurt you or did they really care? Sometimes people like to criticize because their ego gets a charge.
3. Maintain the right attitude. Stay open-minded about the criticism. People can change, and our writing can grow, but only if we stay positive. Don’t be defensive. Look for the grain of truth. Make necessary changes.
4. Accept yourself. This is a maturity issue. “The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.” Leo Buscaglia.
If someone is criticizing your writing voice, the way you tell the story, don’t compromise on who you are, but if your story needs more narrative or unforced dialogue–those are things you can accept.
You can grow and change, but know yourself and accept who you are. “Real confidence comes from knowing and accepting yourself–your strengths and limitations–in contrast to depending on others to affirm you.” Judith Bardwick.
5. Forget yourself. This is a security issue. Don’t focus on yourself. Focus on others instead. By doing this you will be able to face criticism. Being secure in who you are and focusing on others will allow you to take the high road.
Learn to live by this: Perry Noble says, “By your own soul learn to live. And if men thwart you, take no heed. If men hate you, have no care. Sing your song, dream your dream, hope your hope and pray your prayers.”
ACTION: The next time you witness someone criticizing another person, observe the one being criticized. Intentionally notice how she reacts. Is the critic treated graciously? Does her ego get in the way? Is she open to improvement?