Beware of criticism

I’m posting this, because while I totally admire Neil Gaiman,  I’m not sure his ‘fifth rule for writing’ is entirely correct. Here’s what he says …

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Here’s why I don’t fully agree, at least with the first half of his rule. Some people’s taste is so way off yours you should not take their criticisms to heart. I mean, in musical terms, someone who adores ‘industrial metal’ is not likely to provide useful feedback to a ‘boy band’ writing a pop ballad. They may be able to help them, but they may not.

Equally, some readers simply won’t understand what you’re doing well enough to provide any sort of useful feedback. They won’t get your genre, they won’t understand your voice or your ‘world’, or perhaps they’ll simply expect your story to comply with their taste.

Then there are the people who know exactly how to fix up your work. These are the most unhelpful critics of all because they rarely have any idea what your work needs (which I think Neil is wisely suggesting in the second half of his rule).

Beware of who you take your criticism from. If their feedback causes you to lose confidence in yourself and your work, they may have done more harm than good. If, on the other hand, you come away feeling slightly embarrassed about the mistakes you’ve made, but enthusiastic about fixing them, you may just have found yourself a very precious supporter.

Delivering criticism is an art. So is understanding how to receive it. 

If you’d like to read Neil Gaiman’s seven other rules, go here:

November 29, 2012

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