Overcoming Criticism by Martin Haworth

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Please help me welcome Martin Haworth to Writer’s Fun Zone as he shares with us “Overcoming Criticism.” Enjoy!

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I was born in a decade where stability was the success measure in our lives and because of this, throughout my career and at home, any hint of criticism – even when there wasn’t any proof of it – has permeated my adult life, to some extent.

My parents experienced the Second World War first hand. My father being just young enough to actually serve, and my mother – a little younger – recalled how the sky at night lit up as bombs rained down on the industries of Manchester, England.

So, for my three siblings and me, success meant university and the goal of a secure job for life. We were expected to be successful at school and ‘told off’ if we did not achieve it.

And that criticism was uncomfortable. I didn’t like it at all. And over the years I came to resist it, resent it, and become sensitized to even a hint of criticism directed towards me.

When I feel criticised, I have to work hard to overcome the feelings inside me. Otherwise, there can be consequences. As examples, I can give up the task at hand; I can get angry, with myself and others; I might even overreact and thrash out (metaphorically, not physically); and, above all, to reinforce the sense of unworthiness,  I can feel disappointed in myself.

I have had to teach myself to be more robust and less sensitive and to appreciate two things. Firstly, that unfair criticism is often about them and not me. And secondly, it doesn’t really matter, in the big scheme of things. It really doesn’t.

In 2001, I left management in the corporate world to build a coaching and training business as a second career. In hindsight, I realize it took me away from criticism from insensitive bosses, to a world where it mattered less, for I was my own boss.

In around October 2004, I began writing. I wrote a whole management development website, with over 40 topics from scratch.

I had never written anything before.

Later that year, I wrote over 400 management articles. I wrote quickly, edited little, and put my stuff out there. Those articles have been read over 600,000 times, and I have never had a single criticism.

The opinions I shared, I truly believed, and I decided I had an obligation to share my thoughts for they might make a difference to someone.

And I really enjoyed it!

I still share my thoughts to my several thousand followers on Twitter too, with my tweets designed to stimulate thinking in those who read them.

I have now turned to fiction writing, which has again required me to set aside my fear of criticism.

Last year, I wrote two novellas of around 25,000 words each, simply by sitting down for an hour or two each morning and seeing where the initial idea took me. I found myself an inexpensive editor who, perhaps sensing the need for kid gloves, was gentle with her feedback and yet also honest with me about my work.

Then I did nothing. Though I truly enjoyed the writing and the pleasure of seeing where my story led, I was not so keen on the grind of rewriting.

Which brings me to where I am now.

There is an itch that I have to scratch in my fiction writing. NaNoWriMo (an online challenge to write 50,000 words in November) took me 15 days to complete – I did 62,000 words by that point in the month – and I now have the bones of a novel on my hands.

That will require good feedback.

To progress further than last time, I need to amend my critical ear to extract the value from what I hear back. For I now have a drive to rise to the adventure of the next challenge. To complete and publish.

I have a desire to get my work out there in the uncompromising world of ‘the public.’ For acclaim; for profit; and for the sheer hell of knowing that once or twice, I might make a difference. That I might enlighten someone’s day through sharing the ideas I have in my head. That some people might just have a bit of fun with what I write and see it for that.

Or, I could write purely for my own pleasure – but that would stop others from enjoying it. After all, by my not sharing my work, what might I be depriving others of?

As a coach, I know sometimes the smallest things can make a difference.

So, I will keep challenge alive in my life, by seeking feedback through an objective editor and develop my skills and progress, learning as I go that feedback always has a value, and everyone’s perspective is different.

There will be the kind readers who will be constructive. There will be those who are carrying their own burdens and feel the need to be negative towards me as well. My self-critical nature will have to see through the murk of the harsh words and pick out what really does help me learn.

I have learnt to see that feedback – when I am objective enough with myself to view criticism as that – is a rare and generous gift.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Martin Haworth is a coach, trainer and would-be fiction author with a manuscript that ‘needs work.’ He lives in Gloucester, England and has two grown up kids and three grandchildren. He loves walking, travel, and supporting Burnley Football Club. Check out his website at http://martinhaworth.com.

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3 Responses

  1. Anne Preston says:

    I like what you say about feedback being a generous gift Beth. That’s a powerful reframe. One thing I can say as a sensitive soul, sometimes it’s been challenging on an emotional level, especially when as a writer I have identified myself with my writing. (A separate issue, I know) I have had to teach myself to see the gifts fall at the bottom of my feet instead of taking them directly to my heart like a thousand little daggers. That made all the difference. Now I can see them AS Gifts instead of attacks.

  2. BETH BARANY says:

    Anne, I’m so glad the reframe worked for you. I’ll make sure the author Martin Haworth, gets your comments.

  3. Hi Anne. Thanks for taking the time to comment – It’s good to receive feedback!

    I learnt this the hard way as I too am very sensitive to criticism. But the best example I had was when I had to give difficult feedback once to an employee. She had never received the feedback before and had moved jobs frequently as she felt she wasn’t getting along with people. So my half-assed efforts to give tough feedback was a value.

    Just by helping one person to appreciate this and acknowledge that there can be a value in receiving feedback to help them develop, I feel my job is done! Seeing through the disappointment to the value is a critical reframe, as the writer says!

    Bad, negative non-constructive feedback is about them, not you. If they care for you, they will do it nicely, so you can develop and become even better than you already are!

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