It’s a well-known fact that writers need to develop a thick skin to be in this business. I agree with that, but there are many great writers out there who’ve been demoralized by rude (deconstructive) critiques of their work. In working as a Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing online course, I’ve become extremely aware of this problem. There are so many writers who consider themselves an authority and will literally nail new writers to the wall. It’s completely uncalled for and simply not the best way to give another writer constructive feedback. Maybe they think they’re doing the new writer a favor by helping them to develop the thick skin they’ll need when they go in search of publication, or maybe they’re just rude or even jealous that a new writer just might be better than they are. Whatever the reason—it’s just wrong.
Dealing with writers who’ve been scarred by this type of criticism takes a special knack (for lack of a better word). AT FoW we do not focus on the quality of the material itself, we focus on what the writer put into it. Anyone who undertakes this life as a profession or even as a hobby should be praised. Writing is a tough gig, but veteran writers don’t have to be snide when constructive criticism.
Tips for Giving Constructive Criticism
- Ask the writer what type of critique they’d like. Are they looking for an affirmation telling them they have potential? Are they looking for grammar or punctuation advice only?
- Instead of pointing out how bad you think the material or the writer is, try giving them helpful tips, but be polite about it. Don’t tell them what they should do—simply make suggestions on how you would improve the piece of writing.
- Suggest materials they can reference or books they should read, either regarding the craft of writing or classics, that demonstrate the art of the craft.
- Never assume the writer has thick skin or needs you to help make it thicker. Your job isn’t to thicken their skin or to coddle them—find the happy medium and focus on the mechanics of their writing.
- Remind yourself that your writing was once less than perfect and others, more than likely, thought it sucked too. Remember the shoes that carried you to where you are now—that’s the shoes the new writer is wearing.
Criticism is important in this work, but it doesn’t have to be condescending or asinine. There are better ways to help other writers than running them through the ringer.