Years ago, I was reading aloud a piece I had newly written to a willing listener, wanting to both hear it myself, and to get some kind of objective reaction. After reading for about half an hour, I stopped. “Well,” I asked, “What do you think?”
The first thing the person said was, “There’s a dangling participle in the first paragraph.”
Keep in mind I had been reading for half an hour, which meant that my listener was so focused on that dangling participle (in the first paragraph!) that very little of what else I read could have made any impression. Now I have very little doubt there was that grammatical error in that first paragraph, but as a critical response, it made me not to want to hear any more of this person’s reactions.
Criticism is always hard to take. It also must be said that criticism is also hard to give. To lead off with negation—no matter how justified—is to invite a defensive response. While it can be described as a cliché, if you cannot find something to say that is positive, you might as well say nothing at all.
It is not often referenced, but when there is writing, there is always criticism of that writing. It may come from your best friend, your writing group, your editor, these days a blog, or online critical forum, or from some professional journalistic response. My point is that criticism is always part of the writing process. Even if you claim to pay no attention to it—and I have heard some writers say that—it has impact.
These days—particularly with mostly anonymous internet—criticism can often be harsh, and even abusive, revealing more about the critic than the work being critiqued. That said, unless you get a critical response (positive or negative, or a mix thereof) you cannot learn from what you have done.
Criticism is one of the more painful aspects of writing, but in the end, it is critical.