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Know Jack #345 Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Your patience please with my paraphrase of an old story.

God was taking a stroll one day and not finding his son Adam where he should be called out, “Where are you?” Of course, being God, He already knew the answer, but He was interested in what the boy had to say.

Adam stepped out of the bushes, head bowed, kind of dug his toe around in the dirt and blushed with shame. He knew he was in trouble and decided his best bet might be to employ his natural cuteness. He looked up with huge, puppy dog eyes and guilt written all over his face. (You know the look.) “I heard you coming and hid because I was naked.”

God raised a divine eyebrow in an is-that-so look. “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?”

Adam’s eyes lit up the way only a child’s can when he thinks he has found a way out of the trouble he’s gotten into. “That woman, he said pointing a finger Eve’s way. The one that you gave to be with me, she did it, she gave it to me.”

For you see, to err is human and to blame it on someone else is even more human.

In a time when it is the accepted response to be offended by opposing opinions and indignant about every perceived slight, it is especially difficult for some writers to deal with criticism. One bit of well-known advice is to grow a thick skin.

Lately, I’ve read some writers interpreting this as a call to indifference or to “reject” the rejecters. Follow this line of thought at your own peril.

Accepting honest criticism can be a catalyst for growth as a writer. In order for that to happen, you must first admit to the possibility that it might be true. That’s not to say it must be true, only that you are open to the possibility and are willing to listen.

If criticism of the writing has merit, there is only one place to lay the blame—atop the writer’s desk. Yes, there were editors, proofreaders, and publishers involved and they are not infallible. Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times, one editor wrote it was “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull”. (Just one of many great novels panned by editors and publishers.)

But, fellow scribes, we are ultimately responsible for our work’s success. When no one wanted his book, Herman Melville self-published. Perhaps you’ve heard of his novel—Moby Dick. “Adapt, improvise, overcome,” to quote a line from a favorite movie of mine. Rejection and criticism are a stone upon which to hone your skills, don’t let the opportunity to use them pass you by. All criticism is not mean-spirited, bigoted, and pointless oppression of you as a writer. Don’t get offended, get even—use it to better yourself and your craft.


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