As a writer, or any type of person who creates, there is no way to escape criticism. No matter how open-minded or mature you consider yourself to be, no one likes to be criticized. When you pour your heart, soul, and energy into your work, you do not want to have it picked apart.
Your work is sometimes called your baby, after all.
Somewhere back in English class, we learned that criticism can be constructive or unconstructive. Constructive criticism is helpful. It’s specific, and it gives you the feedback and suggestions you can use to improve. Unconstructive criticism, on the other hand, is unhelpful. It’s vague, subjective, and does not give us any feedback for improvement. It’s best to ignore unconstructive criticism because it’s pretty pointless.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the criticism is directed towards us, and it can feel like a personal attack. This type of criticism labels you, not just your work, as bad, incompetent, or not good enough, and it can rob you of your confidence in your abilities.
You can say that any person who gives you feedback is a critic. In fact, one definition of a critic is a person who judges the merits of literary, artistic, or musical works, especially one who does so professionally. Another definition of a critic is a person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something and someone who says they do not approve of someone or something. Some critics of your work will be the latter. They will not see the value of what you have to offer. Maybe its not their style, or maybe they just don’t get you. Maybe they just don’t like you. It takes time, and most importantly, confidence, to be able to realize when someone is a critic in this sense.
There can be a fine line between confidence and delusion, but don’t let anyone to tell you that your work is subpar, or bad, when you rightfully know that it is not. This can be the difference between quitting and pushing forward.
Here are some examples of people who did not listen to their critics.
Beyoncé Knowles, singer, actress, performer, and business owner, was once a member of the girl group Destiny’s Child. When Beyonce let record executives at Columbia listen to her first solo album, Dangerously in Love, she was told the album did not have one hit single. She released it anyway, and it went on to spawn two number one hits and win five Grammy Awards. It sold 11 million copies worldwide and solidified her as a solo artist.
Oprah Winfrey, talk show host, actress, network owner, and philanthropist, was once told she was unfit for television. She went on to become the queen of both daytime TV and all media. One of the most influential people ever, Oprah has told the world what to read, what to buy, and who to listen to through what is know as the Oprah Effect. She is an Emmy, Golden Globe, Academy Award, and NAACP Image Award winner with a net worth of 2.5 billion dollars.
JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series, was rejected twelve times by publishers who read her first Harry Potter manuscript. The book series became a world phenom and has gone on to sell an astounding 500 million copies worldwide. The films have grossed 7.7 billion dollars worldwide and she is the wealthiest author…ever.
Walt Disney, pioneer of animation, theme park creator, producer, and studio owner, was once fired from his newspaper job for a lack of good ideas. His first company went bankrupt. At one point, he had to eat dog food. He once said, “I don’t care about critics. Critics take themselves too seriously. They think the only way to be noticed and to be the smart guy is to pick and find fault with things. It’s the public I’m making pictures for.”
Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times, leading King to throw the manuscript in the trash. His wife retrieved it and the rest is, as they say, history. One rejection letter for Carrie stated “we are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias…they do not sell.” Carrie sold over a million copies in its first year of release.
F. Scott Fitzgerald had 122 rejection slips before he sold one story. He pinned every single one of these letters over his desk. Later, a critic of his novel, The Great Gatsby, said of it “a little slack, a little soft, more than a little artificial, ‘The Great Gatsby’ falls into the class of negligible novels.” The book sold fewer than 25,000 copies during Fitzgerald’s lifetime but is widely regarded as one of the best American novels ever written.
I’ll leave you with these words by Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the best basketball player to ever play the game. While in high school, Jordan was cut from the basketball team. “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have almost lost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted with the winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”