Mind Over Criticism

Criticism is to writers what rubbing alcohol is to a flesh wound: sometimes necessary but painful. I don’t just mean random, directionless criticism, comments such as, “This makes no sense” or “This is boring,” which may also be painful and oh-so-unhelpful. Best to tie a heavy stone to that type and toss it down a bottomless well. I’m referring to constructive criticism that may guide the author to improvement and ultimately a higher quality read. Criticism of any kind is hard to swallow after months or years spent cultivating characters and plots. A lot of blood, sweat and tears pour into that first manuscript. We may feel offended at being critiqued. The same feelings arise when facing criticism’s close and equally unappealing sister, rejection.

Authors may be rejected by editors, publishers, reviewers, bookstores, libraries and other gatekeepers. And then there’s the public, equally available to reject or criticize. We authors are not alone. Entrepreneurs and business people face rejection and criticism by partners, investors, customers. And the list goes on and on. So what’s the best way to handle these irritating, nearly identical twins, Criticism and Rejection? I use a little story:

An ambitious student went to a Greek philosopher and asked to be his disciple. “I want to learn and to acquire all the wisdom I can,” said the young man.
“Good,” said the philosopher. “But first you must go live in the city for three years. Any time any one offends you, either through word or action, you must pay them. Take some coins and say, ‘Thank you. Kindly accept this money from me.'”

For three years, the young student faithfully fulfilled his teacher’s orders. The philosopher was pleased and told the youngster, “Now you may go to Athens, and the great masters will teach you wisdom.”

So the young man went to Athens and found, sitting at the entry gates, an old man who scolded and offended everyone going in and out of the city. When the elder man laid eyes on the young seeker, he hurled insults nonstop. The student burst out laughing. This enraged the old man who yelled, “Why do you laugh in the face of such abuse?” “Because,” the young man said. “For three years I had to pay people who offended me. Now you’re abusing me and I don’t have to pay you for it.” “Young man,” said the gatekeeper. “Come in. You are ripe to receive wisdom.”

Every time I feel even mildly offended by a remark or action directed at me or my book or my anything, any time I’m rattled, in my mind, I set a price and ask myself if I really want to pay the offender for the insult. And the answer is always no. In the beginning, I kept a written running tally of how much I’d have to pay based on just how offended I felt. Sometimes it ran on the high side. This practice was amusing enough to keep me from dwelling on the offense. I learned I’d rather keep my “coins” to spend on something worthwhile and enjoyable. It takes a little practice, but turning one’s focus to things that really matter and that promote progress is far more gratifying than pondering perceived offenses, don’t you think?

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just love , love , & love this blog.