Picture retrieved from http://www.editing-writing.com/manuscript-rejection-dejection/, 2015
A few weeks a go I wrote a small piece as part of a writing class exercise, that the class could look at, critique and workshop. Initially struggling for ideas, I decided to go for the obvious cliche of doing a story of a drunken writer struggling for ideas to write a story. Working on it for a few days, I eventually got a sense of ambiguity and relatability to the piece, and submitted it for the class to workshop it.
It was ripped to shreds. Totally; completely and utterly deconstructed and demolished.
But I'm definitely not going to complain about it. Quite the opposite, sometimes its good for your work to be cut to pieces and kicked into shape. Without criticism, how can you not improve as a writer?
The story that I wrote about was critiqued heavily by the tutor and classmates. It was argued that while relatable in some senses, it was seen as stereo-typical; quite frankly the struggling, substance abuse writer has been done a million times over, from One Tree Hill to Leaving Las Vegas. Having the story to be just about "any character" and "any story" is all very well, but what makes a story stand out is when you do something unique and different with it. Where's the plot and the tension? And where are obstacles?
While I was hurt at first, it is quick to see what my fellow classmates and what my tutor was talking about. Anyone can write a story, but what makes a writer a writer is being able to do it better, more believable, and more engagingly. And most importantly, make it different from being a run-of-the-mill story.
So, following that, it seemed fitting to recognise that criticism is necessary; in fact probably the best thing you can have. I'm sure that when I start submitting articles and stories professionally, some will get knocked back; thats how life is sometimes. What is most important is that you have to learn from the criticism, and if necessary take on what it says and try something new, and it'll be amazing how things change.
Look, for instance, at J.K. Rowling; who was on the bones of her arse when she started writing Harry Potter. She had been rejected time after time by many publishers, and constantly made adjustments and changes to her work based on their criticisms. Even when her story was accepted, her editor even said to her that "there is no money in fantasy books"; and now she owns a castle and is a billionaire.
In fact, every successful writer that I know of has come from beginnings like this.
All that came from criticism and trying something new. Listening to criticism, and adapting from that ensures success in your writing, and makes you enjoy it more. Yeah sure, criticism always hurts... it hurts with any profession. But from it you can learn a lot.
But saying that, I've learnt since then that despite its benefits, it is still good to take criticism with a pinch of salt. Criticism is a subjective thing; some people liked the simpleness of my workshop story as it was relatable to them, and some hated it because it had no depth and layers to it. If you write a piece, do a piece of scuplture, do a painting, or anything else, not everyone is going to like it. But nevertheless it is still important to listen to criticism; because a lot can still be gained out of it, especially if the criticism is constructive.
Quite frankly, if criticism hurts you to the point of wanting to stop doing what you're doing, its time to harden up a bit. You're going to get it no matter what happens. Rejection and criticism is proof that you are really trying to be a writer, or actor, or whatever. Be proud that you have criticisms, and acknowledge that from them you can only improve. Constructive criticism is something that is really benefitial.
Now I'm not saying that all criticism is good; there is some criticism that is so negative and ridiculous that you should totally discard it, and give it the Tim Minchin treatment (if you don't know what I'm talking about, look up "The Song for Phil Daoust"). But if you are serious about your work, you will know when criticism you recieve is constructive, so embracing it ain't no bad thing.
As for me, from that class I learnt that writing something generic doesn't work... like ever. If you want to be a writer, you've really got to put the effort in to make something unique and your own. After that class, my tutor came up and told me that even though she is a professor of writing, her work is still rejected all the time by editors. Criticism is part of what we do, and we are better for it...
And no, I won't be showing that story...