Welcome to the Dojo Wisdom for Writers Book Club! Every Wednesday, we meet to discuss one of the lessons in Dojo Wisdom for Writers. We’ll go in order, so it’s easy enough to follow along. Read the lesson, then read the blog post, then comment in the comments! Do feel free to comment on each other’s comments. I’ll answer questions as quickly as I can.
This week’s lesson, Respect the Centerline, is about (among other things) protecting your work and yourself from unhelpful criticism. Whether you’re a beginning writer or have been at it for a while, you’ve probably found that encouragement during the early stages of a project can help you stick with it; you’ve also probably appreciated thoughtful feedback (“That title could be read as a double-entendre, which I don’t think you meant. Maybe rephrase?”) But pointless criticism can damage your ability to move forward with the project.
Just this week I received a perfect example of “unhelpful criticism.” A friend of mine, an artist, spent a few days helping me learn to draw something slightly more sophisticated than stick figures, and I was thrilled to see that I was making progress in a short time. I posted before and after pictures on Facebook, and a few minutes later I got a joking comment: “Don’t quit your day job.”
I wasn’t asking for advice or feedback and I certainly wasn’t positing that I could start freelancing as a graphic designer by Friday. I was sharing something fun and exciting to me—after years of being unable to produce anything more compelling than draw stick figures, I was finally figuring out how to draw. There was no need to respond, if you thought it was a stupid endeavor; I wasn’t doing anything that might endanger public safety. And while we all get that a joke is a joke, “It’s just a joke!” is exactly the kind of unhelpful criticism that can leave you second-guessing yourself.
I’m imagining how I would have felt if I had been posting about a new project I was really excited about and got that kind of response. I would have wondered what he meant, and if my idea was really as bad as he seemed to think. I can guarantee you that I would have spent a lot more time trying to deal with my emotional response to the comment than he ever spent thinking before he made it.
Since we can’t expect other people to think before they criticize, we have to think before we open ourselves up for it. Certainly there will be a time when you have to put your work out into the world, and you’ll have to deal with criticism, helpful or not, but as with most things in life, timing is everything.
Have you ever had an experience like the one I mentioned? Tell me about it in the comments.