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Take Critique With a Grain of Salt

Take Critique With a Grain of Salt

Wikipedia defines the expression “to take with a grain of salt” as this: “(With) a grain of salt“, (or “a pinch of salt“) is an idiom of the English language, which means to view something with skepticism or not to interpret something literally.

Sometimes as a writer this is a hard thing to wrap your mind around. Writing is art, the creative process of developing something from your own brain and hands, so when someone outside of your little space treads on your words, well, sometimes the critique, whether warranted or not, does not set well.

To me, salt is a source of seasoning. Such is the origin of the phrase:

The idea comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt. Pliny the Elder translated an ancient text, which some have suggested was an antidote to poison, with the words ‘be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt’.

Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, 77 A.D. translates into modern English thus:

After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.

The suggestion is that injurious effects can be moderated by the taking of a grain of salt. Thus, I write this post as advice for any writers (especially new writers) who suffer from self-doubt after receiving a one-star review or a bad blog post about their book or writing. It is a scary thing to present your “baby” to the world and have someone say, “Wow, that is one ugly baby!” But, to be fair, not everyone will like your writing. Not everyone likes my writing, otherwise, I would have far more reviews and far more followers on my blog.

But to take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt, you are, in fact, swallowing the poison along with your own antidote to alleviate the effects of the words. You will not die, and please, do not let criticism keep you from pushing forward to accomplish your art. Only you can speak your words, only you can write what is in your brain.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a difference between constructive criticism and unwarranted criticism. I have found when other writers who are comfortable in their own art, others who sincerely want to see others succeed offer genuine advice to help you improve your writing, how refreshing this is to a young aspiring writer. Actually, to any writer, no matter how old you are and how long you have been writing. I welcome the advice of those who I admire and respect, I mean seriously, art is a continual process of improving and learning, so anyone who thinks they have it down pat I think is fooling themselves. We are always changing and so we need those who will give us a boost.

Unwarranted criticism, well…. do I need to even say anything about this? I did a post earlier in my writer’s blog (The Jabberwocky Blog on WordPress) about “Haters Gonna Hate” and I think if you scroll back and read that post you will get the gist of what I mean and who I mean.

To sum up, keep writing. Writers have to write, not just that they do write, they HAVE to write. Pick up your sword, slay that blank page, and never let the evil red queen threaten to chop off your head if you say or do something she doesn’t like.

Your words are you…. keep creating!!

Thanks for reading.

D. K. Marley

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DK Marley is a historical fiction writer specializing in Shakespearean themes. Her grandmother, an English professor, gave her a volume of Shakespeare's plays when she was eleven, inspiring DK to delve further into the rich Elizabethan language. Eleven years ago she began the research leading to the publication of her first novel "Blood and Ink," an epic tale of lost dreams, spurned love, jealousy and deception in Tudor England as the two men, William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, fight for one name and the famous works now known as the Shakespeare Folio. She is a true Stratfordian (despite the topic of her novel "Blood and Ink"), a Marlowe fan, a member of the Marlowe Society, the Shakespeare Fellowship and a signer of the Declaration of Intent for the Shakespeare Authorship Debate. Her new series titled "The Fractured Shakespeare Series" will tackle adapting each play into a historical fiction novel. She has traveled to England three times for intensive research and debate workshops and is a graduate of the intense training workshop "The Writer's Retreat Workshop" founded by Gary Provost and hosted by Jason Sitzes. She is also a blogger for her blog "The Jabberwocky Blog" on Wordpress. She lives in Georgia with her husband and a Scottish Terrier named Maggie.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, I needed to read this today. Two of my 3 beta-readers gave me very helpful, constructive advice. The third tore my manuscript to shreds…so after a few rotten hours (and thoughts of numerous ingenious ways to murder her), I realized she was comparing it to her own writing, that, while in the same genre, was a totally different sub-genre. She couldn’t see my work from my readers POV, she only insisted on her POV. So, in order to please my readers and myself, her comments will be treated with that lovely ‘grain of salt’ (and have already been shredded).

    Reply
  2. SO true. I recently received feedback (I am a beginning author) about my book. She only read the first page basically and ripped it apart. Totally warranted. Honestly she was so nice, but basically said I wrote like a journal and it needs to be active and engaging. Makes sense since my first book was non fiction and I’m moving to romance.

    The feedback wasn’t as hard to take as the daunting task of rewriting the whole book and learning a new writing style. I will get there though.

    Reply

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