By Lissette Maduro

Author H.G. Mewis wrote: “A true artist willingly removes their heart, allows constructive criticism to stomp it, then puts it back–bruised and aching–to continue improving due to the all-consuming obsessive love for their art.”

The oxymoron constructive criticism is one that is frequently bantered about typically without concern or understanding of its impact on the life and aspirations of the one it’s being dished out to. After all, the word ‘constructive’ has a beneficial connotation, but ‘criticism’ denotes disapproval or censure. So how can such a divisive concept cultivate improvement, and how can writers learn to embrace it in their art and life?

What Is Constructive Criticism?

The inspirational project Write a Writing defines constructive criticism as: “The process of providing objective and well-reasoned views involving both positive and negative comments about the work of others in a pleasant way without hurting the person being criticised.”

The key principles to constructive criticism is that it should highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of the writer, while taking precautions not to undermine the writer’s psyche. Delivering constructive criticism requires tact that not everyone can muster, so it is not an area for the unskilled to venture into.

Knowing this may lead to the observation that with constructive criticism being such an unpredictable matter, is it necessary?

Constructive criticism, when properly conveyed can lead to the character building and humility required of a successful writer. Pointers and well-intentioned advice can give insight and perspective to a writer’s content. They may enable the writer to learn how to better engage an audience and maintain a reader’s interest.

Constructive criticism correctly dispensed may also confer a necessary “reality check” that is valuable to a writer not just in their trade, but also in life. As a writer it is essential to recognise that criticism delivered with these principles is in your best interest.

When Is Constructive Criticism Hurtful?

Constructive criticism should not be injurious. Yet, there are times when it may be hurtful stemming from ill-conceived approaches from both the critic and the writer.

Writers, like most artists, have a vested interest in their work. That interest, however, can become excessive or ego-driven. As such, any critique may be difficult to cope with, though no harm was intended by the one providing the critique.

Fiction author Neil Gaiman observed: “I suspect that most authors don’t really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every 15 minutes or so.” Constructive criticism may be damaging if you are a writer who is not open to objective opinions or having your work assessed by others.

On the other hand, criticism that is meant to be constructive, delivered thoughtlessly or precipitously may be detrimental to a budding writer who may be insecure about their talent and ability. The content of the critique, as well as the tone with which is it conferred, will contribute to an adverse effect on the recipient.

As a writer, it is important to distinguish the difference between approaches and make an attitude adjustment if necessary. It helps to be able to extract the beneficial aspects of the critique despite the manner in which it is dispensed.

When Does Constructive Criticism Feel Good?

Although criticism generally has an unfavourable undertone, constructive criticism can have an  beneficial end result.

Criss Jami, the American poet and philosopher, writes: “You have to lift a person up before you can really put them in their place.” Constructive criticism feels good when it elevates the writer’s spirit and emphasises their potential. In addition, a gratifying outcome can be accomplished by:

  • Sincerely complimenting the writer’s efforts and highlighting the accomplishments made.  
  • Identifying specific issues and observations and devising a plan of action on how to make improvements to achieve the desired results.
  • Showing concern for the overall well-being of the writer. Avoid discussing past shortfalls and focus on current issues and their solutions.
  • Adjusting the tone of the criticism to one that is non-confrontational and helpful.

How to Embrace Constructive Criticism No Matter What

Understanding and accepting that constructive criticism is given out of a genuine desire to see a writer succeed will aid greatly in embracing it. A crucial point in the process is to first adopt an open-minded outlook towards the critique.

Another step towards welcoming constructive criticism is to appreciate the value of having constructive criticism and giving serious consideration to the points raised. This will be to your advantage in advancing your craft as a writer. Researching the recommended solutions or suggested methods for improvement will also assist you in honing your writing skills.

Author Unarine Ramaru, says: “Choose criticism wisely, it might help you improve some elements of what you do.” Taking the time to absorb and reflect on the constructive criticism given will not only be rewarding for your professional career, but also your personal development.

If you avoid feeling attacked or having a need to defend yourself, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to assimilate the critique given. Weighing it against your goals and self-awareness will help you ascertain what part of the criticism can be dismissed and what could be useful.

Constructive criticism can be instrumental in uncovering what a writer is capable of. When undertaken in the right manner, constructive criticism can become a stepping stone for success.

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