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The Difference Between Critiquing and Criticism

By Emily Hanlon

A work in progress is susceptible to immediate extermination from the most unlikely sources: A spouse, parent, child or close friend can often be the worst people with whom to share your work in progress. Let me give you an example from my own experience. I was working on my novel Petersburg, which was a great joy in my life. I wrote the novel in eighteen months and was hopelessly, madly in love with my characters. Incidentally, Petersburg went on to be a great success. I received a large advance; it was published in hardback as well as softback, reached the best sellers list in England and was translated into German, Italian and Greek. The first draft was twelve hundred pages, and when I was about three quarters done, I proudly announced to my parents that I had just finished writing eight hundred pages. My father was delighted and he congratulated me. My mother laughingly said, "Who would want to read eight hundred pages you wrote?"

I laughed with her. After all, I was used to Mom's brittle humor. Ha! I blocked for three months. I couldn't write a word. Fortunately, I was in therapy at the time, and in desperation, I said to my therapist, "There is this one thing...something my mother said"but you know my mother. It was only a joke." I shrugged, feeling suddenly stupid. Mom's remark was meaningless, wasn't it? It was just Mom being Mom.

"What did she say?"

I told her about the episode, and as I did, my self-deprecating laughter turned into tears. I had been crushed by my mother's careless remark. But this time I decided to do something about Mom, and in so doing, I put my Inner Critic in check, too. I stood up for myself as a writer and I told my mother nicely but firmly, "If you ever want to read anything I write again, then I only want to hear that you love it and I am the best writer you ever read. I don't care what you really think. I only want you to love my writing. Period. End of story."

To her credit, she listened and now tells me she rehearses what she is going to say to me about anything I give her to read! It's always complimentary. And I'm thrilled.

Become a Warrior for Your Creativity

There is a very large difference between destructive and constructive criticism. The former will flatten you, the latter will allow you to fly. In an earlier article I talked about Jean, the horror writer, who chose well where to take a chance with her creativity. She found a teacher and a group of writers who understood the creative process and encouraged her to explore her desire to become a horror writer and supported her to continue when her attempts didn't work as well as they might.

Be careful with whom you share your budding works and fragile creativity. Have your antennae carefully attuned. Protect yourself. Protect your creativity.

An Exercise:

List ways you leave your creativity open to being nipped in the bud. Observe yourself and add to the list when needed.

List ways you can protect your creative works so that they can be nourished and flourish. Observe yourself in the coming days and weeks and highlight your successes.

Tip 4 from Emily Hanlon's Ten Tips on Creativity:

Being a creator is risky business. Don't underestimate the tremendous emotional and psychic risks the journey demands. Learn to push ahead even when you are afraid. Learn to love the risk.

This article was taken from Emily Hanlon's The Art of Fiction Writing or How to Fall Down the Rabbit Hole Without Really Trying, which is a journey of discovery for anyone who writes or wants to write.

As you take this journey of discovery you will find new and unexpected characters and stories and learn all the writing techniques you need to create a strong foundation for your story telling. By the time the journey is over, you will be amazed how your writing has developed and changed!

About The Author

Emily Hanlon is a writing coach who works with writers all over the world on the telephone. She is the author of 8 books of fiction, including Petersburg, translated into several languages and reached the best sellers list in England. She leads writing retreats for women and workshops in this country and abroad. Her websites are: and


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