On Being Criticized

“I can’t stand it when I see a comma misused.”

“If a writer changes POV too often, I just stop reading.”

“See, he repeated this word he used five pages ago.”

“That’s okay, many new writers make this common mistake, and we can fix it.”

Let’s face it. There are some readers who search intently for any error in writing and throw up their hands when they find one. They stop reading.

The first time I met this phenomenon, I was making a presentation. A man in the group said under his breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear, he misspelled X. If he doesn’t care enough to check his spelling, I don’t care to stay. He picked up his notebook and left.

While anyone can stand to lose a reader now and again,  this man was important to my presentation being adopted by the group. Luckily, the group liked the presentation enough to adopt my position. But he taught me an important lesson. While I was not stressed out over a ‘small spelling error,’ he was. I concluded that some people are so strong in their opinions about errors they stop reading when they find one. I as a speaker and author had to pay enough attention so that I didn’t lose readers because of mistakes.

After that, I began working on learning my errors and correcting them. When I finally got to write novels, I discovered an entirely new set of rules that stood between successful writing and me.

When my secretary found out what I was doing, she told me I had about twenty-five words I consistently misspelled. She had made a list of them for me. I was spelling them as I pronounced them. With my regional accent, that didn’t work. I posted the list in front of me. After a few weeks, I could spell those words correctly.

I actually like to learn from computer programs. When my computer highlights a misspelled word, it places a red line underneath. I can click on the word and the correct spelling pops up. I’ve discovered that the computer is neutral in its corrections. It doesn’t curl its lip and look at me with disdain while saying, “You don’t know how to spell that?”

I learn better, when a problem is pointed out to me in a nonjudgmental way. If there is a hint of disapproval, I react more to that than trying to change.

As computers progressed and began providing grammar checkers, my writing improved. I still have readers and use an editor, but I prefer the soft corrections from uncritical computers to hypercritical humans, no matter how much they believe they are helping me by being supercilious.

I am in a critique group as well. I carefully selected this group to be a no-holds-barred group where members feel safe to critique and be critiqued. The important distinction for this group is that the critique is focused on the writing and never the writer.