I was perusing the shelves at Barnes & Noble when I came across a little self-help book in the Bargain section. Now, I’m not really one for self-help books; I think they’re a bit cliché and often too general to make any real, long-lasting, solid impact. Although I do actually have two books of encouragement, one book about Winnie the Pooh, and the other one by Kermit the Frog called Before You Leap: A Frog’s-Eye View of Life’s Greatest Lessons:
No, I’m not kidding. It’s pretty fantastic. After all, one of life’s greatest lessons came from Kermy: It’s not easy being green. I feel you, Kermit. Bein’ Green is actually one of those songs that, as a child, used to KILL me. I would listen to that and feel so melancholy…ya know, before I even knew what feeling melancholy meant.
It was the epitome of coming to terms with and being proud of who you are. You may feel average and normal and mundane, but there’s something about you that’s totally and completely unique and wonderful, and it could very well be that one thing you’re ashamed of.
Needless to say, I fucking loved that song. And Kermit. And The Muppets.
But I digress…the book at Barnes & Noble wasn’t a book by or about the Muppets. It was a pocket-sized book filled with quotes about how to improve yourself. Normally, I don’t pay any mind to those, but I flipped through it and found one that actually did strike a chord with me***:
“Turn criticism into a positive.
Seek it out.
Turn it to your advantage:
Ask how you, or your work, can be improved.
View the criticisms dispassionately:
use the good ones,
ignore the poor ones.”
At the bottom of the page, this quote by Norman Vincent Peale really knocked me over:
“The trouble with most us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
I can take criticism fairly well. Sure, I tend to internalize it a bit and sometimes that can manifest itself in unhealthy ways, especially when it comes to the whole querying process; my thought process is that, if you’re going to turn me down and reject me, at least tell me why exactly and what I can do to improve my manuscript instead of the stock “the publishing world is subjective and blah blah blah” crap that 75% of the responses are made up of. My reaction to that:
In general, I appreciate criticism and I thrive on constructive criticism. I truly believe that I can’t improve as a writer unless I get solid feedback that I can use to challenge myself and get my writing to the level it needs to be at. I try to teach these concepts in my classes as well: there is nothing negative about criticism when it’s constructive.
That doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t hurt from time to time.
You can’t let your emotions get in the way. You can’t prevent you from moving forward. Instead, you have to use it to make yourself stronger.
Pick and choose what to keep and what to throw away.
Try new things, new ideas, new concepts.
Use the criticism.
It’s so much better to understand why something isn’t working and then try to improve upon it, rather than resting on praise and never getting better.
I’ll embrace the criticism and welcome the change.
***Disclaimer: I took a picture of the page with my phone so I would remember it. I don’t remember the title or author of the book, so I apologize. Full disclosure, baby.