A Little Happier: How Do We Stay Open to Constructive Criticism, Yet Also Committed to Our Creative Vision?

To live a happier life, we have to deal with a number of ideas that are in tension, and that can never be truly resolved.

We want to accept ourselves and expect more from ourselves.

We want to embrace the moment and also prepare for the future.

We want to stand out, and also fit in.

When we’re trying to create something, we face those kinds of tensions as well. For instance, the tension between staying open to criticism and direction and also remaining fiercely committed to our own vision.

I thought of this tension when I read this passage from poet Stephen Spender’s autobiography, World Within World, about his response to criticism of his poetry.

To overhear conversations behind his back is more disconcerting than useful to the writer; though he can perhaps search for criticism which may really help him to remedy faults in style. But he should remember that the tendency of reviewers is to criticize work not for what it is but for what it fails to be, and it is not necessarily true that he should remedy this by trying to become other than he is. Thus, in my own experience, I have wasted time by paying heed to criticism that I had no skill in employing rhyme. This led me to try rhyme, whereas I should have seen that the moral for me was to avoid it.

Stephen Spender, World Within World 155-56

Sometimes, we need to try to get better at something, and sometimes, we should move on to something else.

With these kinds of tension, only we can know how to handle them. For the most part, they can’t be resolved, only recognized and considered.




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