It's not me, it's you.

Friday August 2, 2013

I don't know about you, but taking criticism is not something I've ever found easy. And as I write novels for a living, unfortunately it comes with the professional terrain, so I thought I'd share something that's helped me cope a little better.

Once I was in a group therapy session, when the guy running it gave us a simple exercise.
'I want you to picture yourself taking a lemon, putting it on a chopping board, and slicing into it with a knife,' he said.

I closed my eyes and did so. Then he asked each of us to describe what we'd imagined.

'I took my lemon from the ceramic fruit bowl in our kitchen, and sliced it with a knife I picked from a magnetised strip on our wall,' I said.
'And the board?' he asked.
'Wooden and worn,' I explained.
'My board was melamine,' said the woman next to me.
'Mine was glass,' said the man opposite.
Someone else was slicing lemon to make a Gin and Tonic, and so it went on.

The exercise illustrated how we each bring our own experiences to bear on someone else's words. As a writer, it helped me see that every sentence has as many different interpretations as it does readers, which goes some way to explaining how one person's 5* book is another's 1*. There is no way I can control these responses – to try and do so is as futile as trying to control someone's thoughts.

Understanding that criticism isn't personal to recipient, but comes from the personal perspective of the critic can be helpful, distancing us from the harshness of words. So next time you feel wounded by an acid remark, remember we each see slicing lemons differently. Or, to put it another way, not everything can be everyone's G&T.

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