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Little known fact, I minored in art in undergrad. The most valuable part of that process was learning how to give and receive critique, and internalizing the reality that critique is vital...but so is knowing when you think it's wrong. And that's frikkin hard, so I wanted to talk about it!

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Good morning, John!  I've noticed that a lot of people who project a lot of confidence are able to do that because they have a life time of experience pretending when, in fact, they have this like, deep looming well of insecurity always like, just off shore.  Yeah, I mean me.  Which makes it really fun to publish a book because books get reviewed.

It can feel a little like, hello, I am a stranger, and I am now going to tell you whether or not the last two years of your life were worthwhile.  Two stars!

Now, the reviews for A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor have been very good, but that doesn't mean that I haven't run into some that have made me feel bad, so let's start out with two things that I know: First, critique is not the only way to respond to a piece of media that you consume.  So sometimes, what is in the reviews isn't a critique--it's just, I liked this, or I didn't like this.  Sometimes it's just, it made me think about these things or it reminded me of this other book, and that's great until and unless the author takes it as a critique, which it's not meant to be.

And the second thing that I know is that responding to critique is a skill that must be learned.  It is something that we are all going to deal with in one way or another in our lives and it's something that you are not immediately good at.  It is normal to be bad at it.

So here are some tips from a confident looking guy for how to handle criticism and turn it from a thing that is all bad to a thing that is at least partly good, and we're gonna do that by talking about what I think are the four types of criticism.

First there are things that you know are wrong, at least to you.  Like, they might be right in how they're experiencing the world, but like, for you, no.  Like sometimes people criticize vlogbrothers videos for using jump cuts and I'm like, okay.  No.  Like, we're not gonna stop that, and I saw a review of my book today that said that the end wasn't exciting for them, and I just like, I think of the scenes in the end of the book and I'm like, no, that's--like, I disagree, and if we disagree, then we disagree and I'm not gonna try to like, convince them, that's how they experience the work.

Now number two, there are thoughts that might be right or are right, and these are, of course, much harder to read but also they're the useful critiques.  It is really important in all parts of our lives that we understand our weaknesses so that we can work around them or so that we can strengthen them.  If I feel like I'm not doing something well, I look for examples of people who are.  I examine the tools people are using to do things I have not yet learned to do, and that's great and this is how growth happens.

Now, it is really important to be able to tell the difference between category one things and category two things.  It's also really hard and the only way I've gotten better at that is by thoughtfully creating stuff and thoughtfully engaging with critique.

Third kind of critique: people just being mean.  If people are in it just to find bad things about a work, I like to realize that as soon as I can and just discard it, because it seems to me clearly to be not about the work.  It's about something else.  It hurts, it will never not hurt, but it's about something else.  A lot of times, I think it's just people are putting the L on the forehead and calling you a loser and like, there's nothing to learn from that.

And last, and I put this in a separate category, though maybe it doesn't need to be, are thoughts about the overall impact a work has on people and on society.  This kind of critique has become a lot more common lately and I think for good reason.  We look at a work and ask if it reinforces stereotypes or indulges in harmful tropes or whether it makes people feel good about themselves or bad about themselves.  This is the stuff that it hurts worst to get wrong because you kinda can't undo it and like, the damage is there and done now.

Some people, I think, feel like this isn't true critique because it isn't engaging in the craft, it's talking about the impact, but I think craft is ultimately all about impact.  It's about using tools to have an effect, so critiquing craft for me ultimately is about critiquing effect and thus I think this is stuff that should be enthusiastically discussed so people can get better at it.

Because here's what I'm always trying to remember when I'm internalizing criticism, whether it's from a friend or a random Goodreads review: I can either feel like this person is telling me I shouldn't be doing or have done the thing that I did or I can take it as literally the only way that I will ever know how to get better.  It's not easy, it's not simple, but in the right light, it's a gift.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.