Recently I responded with thanks to a former Georgetown professor of mine who had taken the time to critique (severely, as was his wont) something I’m working on. He wrote back, “I admire your courageousness in the face of criticism.”
It’s not courage, Dr. Joe, it’s sincere gratitude. In this frenzied world of minute attention spans, when someone takes the time to read your work carefully and the further time to criticize it, gratitude is the only response I consider to be professional. I wrote just that, nearly twenty years ago, in A Writer’s Time: “Finding a writer you can take objective criticism from is a rare discovery in a writer’s career…If criticism angers you, allow yourself to be angry, but put your anger on hold until you have a chance to consider the criticism at a cooler moment.”[click here to order A Writer’s Time]
I was reminded of the evening I spent chatting on a South Florida beach with my old friend Mort Ransen, director of Falling Over Backwards. We had just come from the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, where the film had played to sincere applause from the opening night audience. Afterwards, at the lobby reception, people stood in line to congratulate us and shake Mort’s hand. All were positive, except one man who went on and on about something or other that bothered him about the film. I was about to come to Mort’s rescue and usher the critic away, when Mort stopped me and proceeded to give the man his full attention.
“I’ve never seen anyone in my life,” I said, later on the beach admiring the Gulf Stream’s gentle lapping at the frantic South Beach scene, “who takes criticism as well as you do.”
“It’s the only way to learn,” he replied. “I learn nothing from praise.”