9 Surprising Reasons You NEED to Stop Asking For Constructive Criticism

Constructive Criticism is Bad!

This is a two part series discussing the cons of constructive criticism vs the benefits of constructive commenting. This week I will discuss the arguments for why I am so against constructive criticism, and next week I will go into the nitty gritty of how to constructively comment and have some guest comments from two writers. The first a writer who has received my constructive comments and the second from my tutor who gives me constructive comments.

 The first two explanatory points in the dictionary for criticism are:

1. the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.
2. the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.

I don’t believe in constructive criticism, and I really don’t think you should be asking for it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting for a moment that you shouldn’t ask for feedback. Actually I think the total opposite, you absolutely should ask for it. After all, none of us are perfect and how do we expect to learn if not by having feedback or being questioned about our work? But, I don’t think you need constructive criticism in order to develop. You need:

 

CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENTS

 

Don’t roll your eyes, I promise I’m not arguing semantics, stick with me and keeping reading to the end and hopefully I can convince you otherwise…

Constructive criticism is inherently bad. We slave over our work and when we’re done, we offer it out we ask people to criticise it. Why? Have you ever actually asked yourself why you want to be criticised?

 

I don’t think you do. I certainly don’t.

 

Here’s my reasons why you should stop asking for constructive criticism and start asking for constructive comments.

1. You’re damaging yourself

We often talk about the old adage of ‘hardening’ ourselves to criticism. But why are we doing it? More to the point why should we? It’s bad for our wellbeing and mentality. There are plenty of scientific studies looking at dogs (like skinners  experiment- where he shows the effectiveness of positive reinforcement over negative) or studies that look at children, using the same concepts.

What about Dr. Masaru and his rice jar experiment?

Ok, so a bit extreme as an example, but you get my point… So why do we as adults think it’s ok to damage our psyches? To purposefully ask for something that harms our state of mind and potentially slows or halts our writing progress. There’s scientific evidence to prove my point here – stop asking for criticism and start asking for constructive comments.

2. It makes you feel like shit 

I don’t care who you are, or even if you are the most hardened receiver of criticism. If you get criticised, it hurts. Which hurts your writing. Why do you want to do that to yourself?

3. Criticism is negative

Some authors have made a killing writing books on positivity. On the power of it, and benefits of being positive – Just look at those jars of rice. Isn’t the book ‘The Secret‘ all about positivity, and deciding you are going to do something and then achieving it because you decided you would? Well precisely. Why are we asking for negativity on our babies? On the work we are most proud of? It seems utterly bonkers to me.

4. Criticism slows you down

When you are criticised, it takes time to process. You need to read it, leave it, let it cognize and come back to it when you are stronger and able to consciously process it. This takes time. I think that’s wasteful. I don’t want to take time to process feedback. I want to read it, accept or reject it, embed it, learn from it and move right on. I don’t want to spend weeks thinking about what went wrong, or how badly I did such and such, or what a terrible writer I am because I didn’t do x, y or z. It’s a waste of what precious little writing time I have, or quite often and more to the point, don’t have.

5. Asking for criticism shuts your brain down

I know what I am like, if I get criticised I immediately jump on the defence band wagon. Whether I show it or not, (usually not). Mentally I reject the comments, and refuse to accept or acknowledge their probably justified points. I say no. Instead of learning I out and out reject the valid points, I don’t learn from them and I don’t take anything from them. It takes me an inordinately long time before I can accept what anyone has said. Refer to point 1,2 and 4. It slows me down and takes me forever before I learn anything from it.

6. Giving constructive criticism makes me feel like crap

I think giving constructive criticism is just as bad as receiving it. It affects me, (see points 1-3) If you mercilessly judge someone without giving a thought to their psyche and the damage what you are saying will do, then you either need to work on your emotional intelligence, or, your just an arsehole. In which case I advise not asking other arseholes for feedback.

7. Just because society says so, isn’t good enough

Writers and those embedded in the writing world have an expectation that we must ask for and give criticism. If society said on your eighteenth birthday you needed to leave your family and never speak to them again, or jump off a high cliff without a parachute or soft cushy landing bag, you would do it, would you?

Just because there is an expectation you need to be criticised as a writer, doesn’t mean you have to be.

8. Writers deserve respect not criticism

Writers work bloody hard to craft hundreds, thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of perfectly woven words and sentences to light imaginations on fire. They deserve respect for even attempting the feat. Which is why they DO deserve your feedback and comments and precisely why they don’t deserve your criticism.

9. It’s ok not to be criticised

My last point before I make a suggestion on what you really need is that I want you to know as a writer – It’s ok to not ask for criticism. In fact you should feel empowered to NOT ask for it. Just stop. Don’t do it any more. The world isn’t going to implode, your pens won’t spontaneously combust and you won’t immediately become a rubbish writer.

***

I can feel you shouting at me from across the bloggisphere about how criticism helps you grow. How it makes you a better person. I know, because I have had to fight myself to write this post. I am just as engrained in the writing worlds’ insistence on criticism.

Well I am calling bullshit on it. You can grow and develop as a writer without being criticised and actually I think you can do it faster without the criticism.

If you don’t ask for constructive criticism then, what should you ask for in order to still learn from feedback (which, I will impress again, is vitally important despite the title and contents thus far of the post). I think you need to ask for…

 

CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENTS

 

My definition:

 A method of constructively appraising a piece of work, using positive reinforcement.

That’s it. No big secret.

I highlighted constructive and positive because they are the most important words. Just because your phrasing your feedback in a positive way, doesn’t mean you aren’t suggesting areas for improvement. In fact you ought to be doing the opposite. The important thing is how you say it.

I feel like I am my mother now, but haven’t all our parents said at one point or another – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Well I would like to rephrase that for this post:

If you can’t say anything niceLY, don’t say anything at all.

And by that, I am not suggesting you leave out anything, especially not mistakes or where you spot room for improvement, I am just saying think about how you do it.

Benefits of Constructive Comments:

1.Semantics

I said I wasn’t going to have a semantic debate, I’m not. Ok, I lied. I am a little bit. The thing is, if you ask for constructive comments you are immediately giving a different impression to those you are asking for feedback. You are subconsciously telling them you don’t want or need criticism. But fear not, you are still asking for constructive comments. It’s in the name. Doesn’t the it do what it says on the tin?

This is what it says to me:

You there, reading my beloved short story, or slaved over novel, be nice, but be constructive. I need comments that will help, not hinder my work.

2. Constructive comments are positive, and constructive

If you do it correctly, you can smile sweetly and be confident that the feedback you are giving will be listened to, appreciated, and learned from, and in some cases even raise confidence.

If you want to know more about constructive comments, how they have affected others and how to constructively comment, then tune in for part II on the 9th March 🙂 But for now I would love to know your thoughts on this post, are you for or against constructive criticism?

22 comments

      1. I am so in agreement with every word you wrote there. It’s amazing that we pillory anyone who brings up their kids with all stick and no carrot, then promptly go out and ask for exactly that for our work.

        1. I know it is bonkers, we are completely engrained in putting ourselves down its no wonder we are huge critics of ourselves. I for one am going to start believing in myself more. I constantly beat myself up and it needs to stop!

  1. I have to say that I agree with you 100%. You brought up valid points and we’re all writers helping each other write; why would we want to put each other down? We’re all in this together.

    I’ve heard of that rice experiment, except it was water. I heard of it about a year or two ago so I don’t remember who did it, but I heard about it on the radio. Every morning a class of students would walk by two tanks of water and say, “I love you” to one and “I hate you” to the other. The water that got negative comments got moldy and yucky while the other one stayed clean. It’s pretty cool.

    1. EXACTLY, although writing itself is solitary it should be all about SOLIDARITY. It’s one of the reasons I have started posting interviews with other authors. The water experiment is the same guy actually Dr Masaru (cant remember how to spell his name). I am so glad you agree though, I was terrified of posting this blog in case I got a load of people shout at me!! hehe. 🙂

  2. Yes & no. I like you pointed out how wasteful of time criticism can be – I know I’ve been paralysed for days (writing wise) after receiving negative comments. I’ve found mutual beta reading works really well for me and builds a good relationship with my fellow writer, as we’re both giving and receiving. We may be talking semantics here, but I’ve always interpreted “constructive criticism” as highlighting the good points and where something doesn’t sit quite right, offering an alternative – simple example – highlighting character has walked/gone several times – try a more descriptive verb – scurried, dawdled etc. Is that negative?
    I’m really pleased I’m not the only one who hears, “bla bla bla,” if I feel I’m being over criticised.
    Great post.

    1. I’ve definitely had good (negative) feedback, so I think it can be done and in my next post in this series I will explain how. I agree on beta reading, I think it’s so effective because u build a trusting effective relationship where there is mutual support. Maybe your right and it is just semantics… But that’s exactly why I wrote this post to try and debate it out 🙂 :). I think I am talking about that criticism that paralyses you, like you say. I’ve had feedback that is said in such an awful way I was paralysed for months. I think too often we ask for feedback and just say constructive criticism but I think that sets up the person giving feedback to be cruel rather than helpful. Maybe I’m thinking about it wrong but I always think it’s better to be clear about what you want from feedback….thank you so much for taking the time to write such an interesting comment 🙂

  3. Hi Sacha. I’m sort of with Diane here in that I’ve called positive comments that point out problems as well as what works ‘constructive criticism’ whereas being dissed is just criticism. However the spot on point you make is that, by changing the label we emphasise the need to make those comments constructively – so the important part of the praise shifts from criticism to constructive. During my MA I received all versions but the best were the thoughtful comments made clearly and neutrally even if the content meant I had some real problems to resolve whereas the ones I took time to absorb were the ones that were smug or smart arsy even if the point tat was being made was a good one, the wrapper put me off. And because of the career I’ve had where random and deliberate criticism to undermine you is part of the ‘game’ of a commercial negotiation, I came to my MA pretty inured to the sometime shit fest that was served up. However others found it much more difficult to ‘suck it up’ and, you are right, there was no reason for them to. So sematics for me, yes a bit but still a very thoughtful and perceptive post. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Geoff. You make a really good point here about your career and the impact that has had on you. I’ve not had anything like that so I think I just experiencing that shit fest for the first time and I think it’s that, that I am trying to avoid. Of course it’s those positive criticisms that are useful and ive had those and REALLY need and appreciate them, but as you say it’s the ‘wrapper’ they come in that’s as important as what they are saying, otherwise it’s wasted feedback. If we can’t hear the feedback then what’s the point of having it? There isn’t any. Because we won’t benefit from it. I am so glad this post is drawing such interesting comments this is exactly what I wanted 🙂 this probably is a semantics game to be fair, but if I didn’t write something on one end of the scale I probably wouldn’t have incited this debate! 😜 that being said isn’t the point of a semantic debate to define meaning? And for me what we traditionally think of constructive criticism Isn’t right. I think what we all really mean is constructive comments…

  4. You make some interesting and valid points in your post, Sacha. I’ve always thought of constructive criticism as having the purpose of suggesting improvement rather than tearing down. I think anything that stops writers in their tracks must have more negative connotations and therefore lose the label of ‘constructive’, simply by its non-constructive nature. I do love to receive constructive comments, of course, and agree that a change in choice of words can make a powerful difference. Helping writers improve their work is definitely a great goal.

  5. Thanks for this post. It’s really thought – provoking. I agree that criticism should be constructive, otherwise it will just be damaging and therefore counter-productive. However I’m convinced it’s more than helpful: it’s necessary. Writing is a solitary endeavour, yet if you’re going to share it, you need the feedback. My beta readers have been invaluable. I also hope my comments have helped authors.

    1. Thank you for the comment I am glad it was, I wanted a discussion so I am glad you thought it was thought provoking. I 100% agree feedback is necessary, I can’t wait to have beta readers to read my novel, I guess it’s just about what that feedback looks like for me, or for you, or for any writer. We all need something different and I think too often we as writers set up those giving feedback to think it’s ok to crush us and be critical rather than constructive. There’s just no need you know? And I think we (writers) need to think about why we allow others to do it. Anyway thank you so much for taking the time to leave such thoughtful comments 🙂

  6. I’m all about building up and identifying strengths as a way to do that. Semantics, but I believe it falls in the category of constructive comments. There are times when I want someone to read to find the faults and gaps. But I’ll ask for that specific feedback and usually with a trusted person who I know will be honest. Good discussion!

  7. This is very smart. I’m very far along in my career (“I’m not dead yet!”) and can very often spot where I’ve gone wrong but won’t know exactly how to fix it quickly enough. I’ll say to someone I know who’s smart enough and knows my work: “This scene is slow–how can I tighten it?” “This character’s motivation seems iffy–what would make her more believable?” I’ll *target* my questions after identifying the problem rather than ask for blanket feedback.

    1. Thanks Lev, thats a good place to be in, I don’t think I am quite there yet. If I leave my work for long enough though, when I come back to it I can usually pick out the problems with it. I’ve never been able to proof read very well though, but the major things like pace and order I can do. I still get too close to my work though to spot everything. I think that’s a great point though, to target your questions, I hadn’t thought of doing that. Great advice, thank you 🙂

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