On Criticizing People

I wrote a story that I absolutely love.  The process of writing the story felt magical.  I did not have an outline or a story line.  I just had that first moment of fascination with an idea and every time I worked on it I sat in front of the computer and the story just came to be, as if it already existed and I was just transcribing it.  It is really inspirational and full of joy.

After I completed the story the question came, “How do I share with the world this beautiful creation of mine?”

I decided to seek guidance from a woman whose husband is an acclaimed writer who many of you probably know. I also need to say that this is a woman who firmly believes in mentoring other women.  I hoped that she might be able to share with me some insight into the publishing industry and give me general ideas on what possible directions I could pursue with the story.  I gave her a copy of the story and left knowing that she was not open to help me even one little bit but I though to myself that that was fine because she would at least tell me what she thinks about the story.  At this point I have shared my book with only a few people and receiving feedback was important to me.

Today I received the copy of the story I gave her in an envelope with the following note attached: “Thanks for sharing.  Good luck with it.”

After reading the note I felt sad at the level of attention she felt was appropriate but I decided to ask her about her opinion anyway.  Looking back may be I should have left it at the note without pursuing her thoughts on my story any further.  Her reply was very dry, analytical and exceptionally critical.  She criticized everything, everything about the story.  The only positive comment she had was that my story was “sweet.”  I even wonder if she meant it in a nice way.  The woman ended her email by saying that she is not an editor and I may choose to ignore her comments in favor of my own instincts about my own story.

I felt crushed.

I knew that this is her opinion and that each one of us has different tastes and preferences so I was not concerned about the value of the story itself.  Yet, I felt wounded by her harsh words because I created the story with great love and excitement.  She had nothing to gain from telling me what a mess of a book I had since she had already volunteered to share with me that she would not help me get the book to any of her many friends who are editors, agents and publishers.  I was looking for feedback so I was not afraid of criticism, yet her words made me feel attacked and embarrassed that I dared speak with her because she would think less of me now.  She probably believed that she was helping me yet she did not even consider that I am a real human being with real feelings.

Next time when you need to tell someone that they are doing something wrong please find a kind way to deliver the message.  Remember that the best way to help someone improve is to encourage what they are doing well already.  Find a few good things to say to the person you are criticizing.  This will give them the confidence that they have what it takes and they are capable of improving and meeting your expectations.  They will not feel hurt and alienated by you but rather will be willing to try things in a different way and make them better.

As to my story – I will leave it as it is.  It is a wonderful story that will inspire those to whom it speaks.

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