One of my most popular blog posts is called “Handling Criticism” (it has a whopping ten likes, which I’m pretty certain makes me a bigshot blogger now). In it, I wrote about the importance of learning how to handle criticism — both the constructive and destructive kind — in a professional, respectful way.
In that post, I noted:
Most writers will tell you they are okay with criticism, yet I’ve seen how defensive writers can get over their work when anyone dares to criticize it.
I’ve been thinking about that bit for a while now. Why do we writers get so defensive over our works? Sure, it’s no fun when someone tells us that something we made isn’t perfect, but it is astonishing how defensive writers can get over our creations. Amateur writers tend to be the most defensive due to their lack of experience in responding to critics and editors, but I have seen some professional writers who should know better act this way, too, seemingly for no reason other than that their feelings were hurt.
It is illogical when you think about it. Our works are not us. Yes, they were made by us and yes we put a lot of work and effort into them (usually), but again, they are not us. My stories are not me. They are a part of me, yes, but just because someone criticizes one of my stories does not mean they are criticizing me as a person. I think most writers would agree with that.
Then why do so many writers get their pants in a twist when someone criticizes their work? Even if the criticism is fair and true?
In my opinion, most writers are actually very sensitive people.
That may seem an odd conclusion to come to. In a profession where rejection is commonplace and most consumers are more than happy to write and post online a scathing review of a story they didn’t like, you’d think the most sensitive writers would have been weeded out a long time ago. Surely only the toughest of the tough would still be in the biz, right?
Maybe that’s true for some, but I think most writers who are still in the business have designed ways of coping with their sensitivity that make them look tough. They put on a mask of cold indifference or perhaps respectful politeness, even though deep down they would rather lash out in anger or cry. They know — sometimes from trial and error, sometimes from observing how other writers are treated for acting defensively — the price of oversensitivity in the writing business and so have come up with ways to cope with their sensitivity so it doesn’t destroy their careers.
I myself am a sensitive person. I was a lot worse when I was a kid, but I am still quite sensitive. Whenever I get harsh criticism for my writing, I usually want to break down and cry or sometimes lash out in anger. As my “Handling Criticism” post shows, however, I’ve came up with constructive ways to handle my feelings, although as far as I can tell, my sensitivity is probably going to be with me for the rest of my life, whether I like it or not.
Sensitivity isn’t a bad thing. Like everything in life, it has a good side and a bad side. I believe my sensitivity has made me more aware of life’s subtleties than most people are, which is a valuable gift for any writer to have. It usually keeps me from shipping out any work that is not yet ready to be read by anyone other than myself. As long as you have a constructive way to cope with your sensitivity, I think you’ll do just fine in the writing business.
Admittedly, I could be wrong. I don’t have any scientific information to back up this idea. Maybe most writers aren’t sensitive. Still, in my experience, this has proven true often enough that I think there is at least some truth to it, even if it isn’t the whole truth. (Although now that I think about it, creative people in general, not just writers in particular, can be fairly sensitive about their works,)
Do you think most writers are sensitive? Why or why not? If you are a sensitive creative person, how have you learned to handle your sensitivity when it comes to receiving criticism from other people?