I used to take voice lessons, and for those who have not done so, voice lessons can be a great deal more daunting than you might think. They test the self and the confidence in all sorts of strange ways. My voice teacher, Lynn Werner, is a genius, and during the time I took lessons from her, she gave me some fantastic insights. One that comes to me now resembles the advice I got from one of my excellent writing teachers. Lynn told me to be cautious when listening to the comments and “constructive criticism” from people who hear me sing.
First, look carefully at the background of the person who is offering comment. Look at that person’s experience in the field and his or her interest in you as an artist. That really matters. People who do NOT know what they are talking about or people who do NOT care about you in the slightest should NOT form ANY PART of your ideas about your performance, your work, or your choices.
That may seem harsh. Someone reading this might think, “Hey, when I offer a suggestion, I’m being nice, and I’m very wise, so people should listen to me.” If you are thinking that, you are wrong.
I make the caveat that a reviewer for a publication may be an unbearable boar, or a roaring idiot, but if he or she is hired to write about a performance or product, that is a legitimate job, and worthy of the pay it takes to do it. Watch Ratatouille, and you’ll see what I mean.
On the other hand, people who offered unsolicited “constructive criticism” need to think again. Consider the purpose of the comment and its intent, and (most importantly) consider what good it will do.
I do NOT offer criticism, constructive or otherwise, unless I have been paid or I am invested in the success of the person or persons I am advising. I have known professionals and friends who say and write things incorrectly, but I do not tell them so unless I am their designated editor or teacher. I do NOT say, “It’s ‘moot point,’ not ‘mute point.’” I do not say, “You’re mispronouncing that.” I may be right, but that would not be constructive. It would be merely critical, and I doubt they would feel anything but embarrassed by my criticism.
I DO criticize writers, students, and readers. I am paid to do so, and I put a great deal of effort into finding a way to make it constructive. First, I acknowledge what works. I pay attention to and point out the things that make any effort or product strong or good. I am specific in this as often as possible. I don’t say, “That was a good story.” I say, “The dialog makes the character seem completely real and sympathetic, especially here on page three.” Then I read back what I think is strong. When I make suggestions for revision, I try my utmost to make what works bigger and what doesn’t work go away. I remind my audience that the author is the final authority on these things, and that my suggestions should only be followed if they inspire confidence, creativity, and joy.
If I correct an error in mechanics or spelling, I do so in as painless a way as possible and refer to it as being picky because that is the truth. I don’t mean to imply my suggestions do not make people frustrated or hurt or angry or confused. I know how it is to be taught. I have taken lessons in writing and singing. I have had my feelings hurt when I should have just listened and tried what was suggested. I have an ego the same as anyone else.
What I mean is that the best type of criticism always comes from the context of helping a fellow become great. If it causes pain, it should be short-lived and productive, like a shot of antibiotics or waxing.