If you want to be a better writer, one of the best things you can do is learn how to accept constructive criticism.
Often, I'm asked to name the number one thing that aspiring writers can do to improve their writing. Recently, in an interview with The Daily Interview, I was asked to put my best advice into a single sentence or phrase (I picked phrase). Here's what I said:
The bottom line is that none of us are perfect writers. If you want to be a better writer, it helps to accept constructive criticism and use others' suggestions to improve your writing.
Constructive Criticism vs. “Regular” Criticism
First, you have to understand the difference between constructive criticism and “regular” criticism.
Regular criticism is designed to tear you down. It can be mocking, or it can be just plain negative. The point is not to help you improve; it's to make you feel bad about yourself. Someone just saying, “Your article sucks” isn't very helpful, and you can't take that and really make positive changes to your writing.
Constructive criticism is meant to help you improve. Good editors know how to work with their writers to help them improve their pieces. Constructive criticism might not always be fun to read, but if you listen with an open mind, it can boost your writing. Constructive criticism provides you with specific direction in what should be changed, as well as suggesting approaches and angles that might work better.
I like to think that over the past nine years my writing has improved. A lot of that credit goes to mentors and editors that have pushed me to improve my writing.
Look for people who can help you be a better writer with constructive criticism, delivered in a helpful way, and avoid trolls who say negative things just to be mean.
In the world of writing, this often means distinguishing between suggestions that are helpful, and suggestions that…aren't. I had a client who seemed to feel that he wasn't doing his “job” unless he asked me to change something in each article. Most of the time, these changes didn't enhance the piece. Sometimes he asked for “more detail” in a sneaky attempt to get a longer article for the shorter-article price. It was a pain, and I eventually fired the client.
On the other hand, Matt Schultz was a great editor. He asked thoughtful questions about what I turned in, and his suggestions aimed at improving the work and helping me be a better writer. I'd work with him in a heartbeat.
How to Accept Constructive Criticism
As a writer, it can be difficult to accept any type of criticism — even if it's constructive. As with many things in life, you need to learn how to accept others' suggestions for your improvement. Here are some tips that can help you accept the constructive criticism that can help you be a better writer:
- Remember that it's probably not personal. It feels personal because, as a writer, you feel like you are your work. However, your editor or the person you've asked to read through your work doesn't usually see it that way. They aren't trying to make it personal; they are trying to help you improve.
- Remember why you've asked for help in the first place. Think about why you have asked someone to read your piece. Be honest. Do you want someone to just tell you how great you are? Or are you really looking for help and direction? To be a better writer, you need to remember that you are asking for help, not validation.
- Ask your own questions so that you understand the why behind what's being said. That can often provide you with insight as you move forward.
- Leave the ego behind. There are times that diva-like thoughts run through my head. However, if you want to be a better writer, you need to check your ego and accept that you probably don't know everything and that there is room to improve. I try not to discount advice offered to me in good faith, no matter the source, since everyone has something to share.
Once you have processed the constructive criticism, you can act on it. Make the changes, and consider how they can apply to your writing as a whole. Work on new skills so that you are always moving forward.