Accepting Criticism

September 6, 2021 by Eileen Wirth

“That’s just your opinion.” 

I shook my head. How would a student who got this angry over a bad grade ever cope with harsh criticism in the real world?  I’d worked for editors who resembled Attila the Hun, but they had taught me how to cope with criticism, even to value it. 

It’s an essential skill for anyone who aspires to be a creative professional.

A few months ago, an editor for my tenth book delivered an uncomplimentary critique of the writing that I had to admit it was right on target. I spent a grueling week rewriting large parts of the manuscript and then wrote her a thank you note. We all need help to do our best work, and now the book is sailing towards publication.

If you want to get paid for your creative work in any field, learn to accept constructive criticism because it’s literally the difference between being a professional and a hobbyist. 

One of my best friends writes constantly but will never publish a word because he sees editing as an assault on the integrity of his writing. His manuscripts pile up on his hard drive while I depend on constructive criticism to publish books. Take your choice.

Here are three tips for handling constructive criticism:

  • You and your critic are engaged in a problem- solving exercise so don’t take negative comments personally and don’t let criticism destroy your confidence.  If you weren’t good, no one would waste time trying to improve your product.
  • Find critics who can teach you how to improve. Even the greatest athletes hire coaches. Try to be grateful, not resentful to those helping you polish your work.
  • Never respond to criticism immediately. Go for a run or a swim then return with a fresh mind to identify and solve the major problems. Once you figure out main issues, this can be surprisingly easy. 

Creativity always  involves  a combination of pain and euphoria. When students used to ask me when writing would get easy, I responded “never.”  You must both love and hate what you do because if you don’t hate it enough, you’re probably not working hard enough. 

Got a question or topic on creativity you would like Dr. Wirth to address for The Greenhouse Journal? Shoot her an email at EILEENWIRTH@creighton.edu.

Dr. Eileen Wirth

Eileen Wirth

Dr. Eileen Wirth is a professor emeritus of journalism at Creighton University and is an author specializing in Omaha history. She was a reporter at the World-Herald and a PR Writer for Union Pacific before joining Creighton in 1991. Eileen’s books include The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Historic Omaha Houses of Worship and From Society Page to Front Page. She on the board of History Nebraska and a member of the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Women’s Journalism Hall of Fame, and the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame. She also has been active in numerous groups particularly the Omaha Public Library.

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