Constructive Criticism: An Argument for Listening to Your Critics

Haters gonna hate. This popular saying empowers people to live their lives how they want. After all, no matter what your life choices are, chances are, you’re going to offend someone. So, why not dismiss the haters and live the life you’re meant to live?


constructive criticism

I’ve noticed that ‘haters gonna hate’ is also being used as a response to constructive criticism. Whether it’s a judge recommending a singer get more training to further develop their voice, or a teacher recommending more study, the response is often along the lines of, “Whatever. You don’t know anything. I’m fabulous – haters gonna hate.”

I’m all for self-confidence. I’m all for self-love. But how do you grow as a person, writer, artist, dancer, etc., if you can’t accept that you have room for improvement?

And – here’s the truth – there is ALWAYS room for improvement.

My two lifelong creative pursuits have been dance and writing. I became a good dancer because I put in years of hard work, and I trusted that my instructors knew more about dance technique than I did. I became a good writer by spilling my heart out onto the page, and listening to advice given by veteran writers and teachers.

If I had said ‘haters gonna hate’ (or the equivalent) I wouldn’t have gotten very far in either endeavor.  

Let me be clear: I am not talking about bullies or online trolls. If someone is attacking you for who you are, how you look, your race/ethnicity, etc. then that is not constructive - it’s just criticism.

But what’s the difference?

Constructive Criticism

Dance instructor 1: You could improve your pirouettes by tucking your butt under and closing your rib cage. Work on a strong core. Here’s how – (gives examples on how to improve)

Criticism (bullying)

Dance instructor 2: Your pirouettes are awful. It’s no wonder. Your butt is too big and it sticks out too much. You’ll never be a good dancer with a butt like that. Honestly, you just don’t have the build to be a dancer.

See the difference?

I can do something with the advice from the first instructor. I can strengthen my core and be conscious of tucking my butt under. With the second instructor, I’m not empowered to do anything with their criticism. I can’t change my body shape. (Misty Copeland, one of the most successful ballet dancers of our time, was told she would never be a dancer because of her shape and color. She continued to dance and proved that opinion to be utterly false. She accepted constructive criticism and ignored the rest.)

Here’s another example of constructive criticism:

I recently attended the Big Sur At Cape Cod Writing Workshop. I took the manuscript I’ve been working on, and it was basically torn apart by experts. My two mentors, Jennifer Laughran and David Elliott, pointed out the weaknesses in my story and gave me ideas on how it might be strengthened. They recommended books to give me further guidance. They asked difficult questions and expected thoughtful answers. They told me I was a good writer, but I could be better.

It sucked. It was amazing. It was just what I needed.

You can’t judge whether criticism is constructive or not based on how you feel. Constructive criticism can initially feel just as disheartening as plain-old unhelpful criticism / bullying. So how can you distinguish between the two in a moment?

Ask yourself.

  • Can I take something positive away from this?
  • Can I improve?

If the answer is yes, then you’re likely getting helpful advice. That’s when you take a few deep breaths, wipe away any tears, and get on with the work of becoming better.

And it’s important to remember that even experts in their field are subject to constructive criticism. In one of the panels at the conference, editors Yolanda Scott and Christine Krones, were asked a very difficult question by one of the attendees. Implicit in the question was a criticism about how the publishing world is set up. Yolanda and Christine’s responses were impressive. In front of an entire roomful of people, they acknowledged the validity behind the criticism. They said they didn’t really have an answer at the moment, but it was something that they would think about. These women are at the top of their professional game, and they accepted constructive criticism from (I believe) an unpublished writer. They didn’t blow it off by saying ‘haters gonna hate’ – instead, they took the comment on and admitted that they didn’t have an answer at the moment. Wow! That takes guts. And it’s also a sign of someone confident enough in their own abilities to be open to a critique from someone else.

Finally, remember that if someone is offering you constructive criticism, it is usually coming from a place of wanting to help you. It’s not that the other person enjoys making you feel sad, it’s that they want you to do better. They want you to fulfill all the potential that they see in you. Don’t you want the same for yourself?

Where's Rey?

where's Rey star wars

I'm truly bummed out. I've been reading article after article - and tweet after tweet - about the fact that it is virtually impossible to find Rey merchandise for children to play with. You would think that store shelves would be absolutely overflowing with Rey products given that she is the main character and heart of the new Star Wars film, but instead, children are having to resort to making their own Rey toys.

A quote from this article says it all: 

Corroborating the Lucasfilm insider’s assertions is John Marcotte, founder of the non-profit Heroic Girls.

 Where's Rey? Not in the new Monopoly game. Grrr grrrr

Where's Rey? Not in the new Monopoly game. Grrr grrrr

“I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” he tells Boehm. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of.”

They were blindsided? And completely surprised? How can you be 'completely surprised' that children would want to play with Rey toys?

Why? Wait for it, wait for it - because she's a GIRL.


 Where's Rey? Not here. 

Where's Rey? Not here. 

Apparently, toymakers think that, “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.” Let's flip this for a moment. Imagine that Harry Potter products weren't made because 'no girl wants to be given a product with a male character on it.' It would never happen.

I know that it's 'just toys' and there are much bigger problems out there, but it's disturbing to me that it is still totally acceptable to assume that little boys can't look up to a female character - and it's equally disturbing that the toymakers didn't even consider the little girls. 

Fine, let's assume for a moment that little boys don't in fact want to play with Rey toys. But what about the other 50% of the child population?

Isn't it worth making Rey merchandise just for the little girls out there?!

Thankfully, children are smarter than the toymakers and marketers who made this ridiculous (and costly) decision. Both girls and boys want to play with Rey toys and the demand has been so strong that Disney has finally unveiled new Rey merchandise (including a Rey Lightsaber!). 

There has been one lame excuse after another about why Rey toys aren't available, but what it comes down to is this: Disney, Hasbro, etc. thought that a girl character wouldn't sell. And they were wrong. 

If Rey had been 'Ray' this wouldn't have been an issue with the toy manufacturers. 

Kids don't have the same prejudices as adults. Until an adult says “that's a girl toy," or “that's a boy toy," kids are happy to play with whatever they deem fun. If you write a cool, strong, engaging female character who kicks ass and uses The Force, both little boys and little girls will want those toys.

Girl Power Playlist

Who runs the world? GIRLS!

Michelle Obama released a Spotify playlist jam-packed with girl-power anthems to celebrate International Day of the Girl. She created the playlist to celebrate the 4th annual October 11th holiday, a day designated by the United Nations to promote awareness of gender inequality around the world.

You can find the playlist here.

What do you think of the First Lady's choices? What would you add to the playlist? I nominate India Arie's I Choose! 

False Guilt And Why Beating Yourself Up Doesn't Work

Why beating yourself up doesn't work. There are only so many hours in the day and you can only do so much. So decide what's important to YOU. If someone doesn't understand your passion for drawing, or writing, or science, etc. that's ok. It's not your responsibility to make them understand. It is, however, your responsibility to follow your calling and live YOUR life.