The Need to Improve

On the weekends, my intellectual father will often send an email filled with links to interesting articles he has read and music that he is currently listening to. Some of it I skim over (similar to skimming headlines in a newspaper), and sometimes I’ll find a gem and voraciously devour it and discuss the topic with him further.

This past weekend, he sent me a BBC article, Why Even The Best Feedback Can Bring Out the Worst In Us. We inherently reject criticism even if it is to our own benefits. We often automatically deflect the criticism or point out the flaws in someone else’s work in order to make ourselves feel better. By the end of the article, it suggested that we build an armor of self-esteem so that we can accept and use the criticism we face to our advantage.

This article is especially relevant for any writer or artist. The bulk of our work is receiving criticism on ‘the masterpieces’ we have produced. The successful ones instinctually know not to take the criticism personally, but use it constructively in order to hone their skills and progress in the field. The ones who do not make it (either finish a story or gain acceptance by a publisher) take the criticism personally and fall into deep despair.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, he mentioned, “Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word ‘but’ and ending with a critical statement.” For the record, I am just as guilty of this as any other reader. I have lived by the sandwich form of critiquing: mask a negative comment between two positive affirmations. Dale Carnegie countered this negative equation with, “This could be easily overcome by changing the word ‘but’ to ‘and.’ Pile on the praise and the writer will “try to live up to our expectations.” For example, a comment could be “I love the way you tried varying your sentence structure in this paragraph, and it’ll be even better when you master the rule of commas!”

When critiquing a piece of writing, I don’t know if an editor can simply not correct errors and give all praise, but Dale Carnegie makes a great point of keeping the comments more inspirational and positive so the receiver doesn’t feel weighed down by the negative commentary.

I think of critiques as valuable lessons and a way to gather more ideas for my work. The comments made on a writer’s work are purely suggestions. I think it’s important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, the writing is still yours and you can pick and choose which comments to use and which comments to trash. They are not permanent changes to your text just because it is someone else’s suggestion.

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Go for it

That little voice of inadequacy in all of our heads, I think, is especially loud in the writers who want to write and get published, but simply cannot get up the gumption or nerve to finish whatever we’re working on and send it out to publishers. I have a particularly hard time with this one.

There are always those flashes of memory from the past that can affect your choices in the future. Memories of criticism can be especially lethal. As a young student, we were all forced to read and write about topics that we just didn’t care about. In grad school, I had to read what seemed like the longest book about immigrants and social inequality (can you tell what the instructor’s interests were?). I also took a class on modernist literature to the same result. Not that these topics aren’t important, I’m just not interested enough in them to do a whole bunch of research and write 15-20 page research papers on the topic.

The motivation just wasn’t there. After those classes, I thought that I never wanted to look at a book or write anything ever again. Writing those research papers for those classes was like having all of the hair on my head pulled out one by one. I just didn’t care about the subject matter, which makes finishing the work agonizing. Then, to finally finish the writing, feeling proud and accomplished, and only to have the work bleeding with corrections and criticism.Even now, I have a hard time sitting down to work when I am at home, and I think part of that is the memories of doing those painstaking research papers on this same couch.These lingering memories can leave doubts and fears in the mind of an aspiring writer.

It can be hard, but I believe we can overcome these doubts and fears in ourselves. As I become more attached and committed to Adelie Ink and the Pondering Penguins blog, I’ve been catching up on the literature as to what it takes to make a blog, business, or any chosen endeavor successful, and part of that research was reading through Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.  ‘Rich’ doesn’t always mean monetary wealth, although that is a great motivator for many. A lot of the book is focused on mindset. The successful do not let negative thoughts deter them from what they are trying to achieve. They connect with positive, like-minded people who are there to give them a pat on the back and a shoulder to lean on. I think a lot of writers could take a page from the entrepreneurial world. It is a lot of the same mindset. The business man/woman constantly tells him/herself that “I can do this,” “I am committed,” and “I am worthy of the reward.” They also don’t procrastinate with entertainment, a key success to any productivity schedule. They watch maybe an hour’s worth of TV, and the rest of their free time is used reading and educating themselves on how to attain their dreams.

There is also the theory that you receive what you give to the universe. So if you’re sitting at your computer thinking I can’t do this, What am I doing? This is nuts. You’re only going to see more of the same agony. If you sit down to write with a positive attitude and feeling of excitement, then the words and story will come much more easily.

There is that well-known phrase or title, “Starving Artist.” When one thinks of a person who works in the arts, there are the select “lucky few” who make it and become hugely successful, famous and reap all of the glory. Then there’s the other 80-90% percent who love the craft, and are probably just as if not more talented, but perhaps don’t achieve that “star status”. However, in short, this mentality is simply not true and demoralizing in some respects. Success isn’t designed into the shape of a funnel, it can take any shape of the person who dreams it. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone if they are willing to put the time and effort into what they want if it is truly what they want.

I hope this blog post inspires you to turn off the TV, get off of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and open to that blank page, and express whatever it is that you feel the need to share. If you are looking for that spark of inspiration, read a book that inspires you, or listen to something while you come up with ideas. Good luck! Please let me know how it goes!

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