You need to know when you are giving yourself constructive criticism, the words that make your project the best it can be and when you are just running yourself and you work down. That’s the tricky thing. You are your own harshest critic. You need to recognize it so that you can cut it off before it destroys your piece.
Constructive criticism is criticism that serves a purpose. This the criticism that cuts the glut from your work, making it leaner and better. Destructive criticism happens when you endlessly critique your work and cut or rework it over and over and over again. It’s when you are never satisfied with your work.
The first step is to identify which type of criticism you are giving yourself. The definition of destructive criticism is “Criticism performed with the intention to harm someone, derogate and destroy someone’s creation, prestige, reputation and self-esteem.” Often we do it to ourselves and don’t even realize we are destroying our own work.
When you are criticizing your own work, think about what you are telling yourself. Are you picking nits? Or is that a real issue with your work? Once of the best ways to determine the criticism type, assuming you have the time, is to walk away from the piece. Put it away. Write something else. Give it a month in a drawer and then come back. Give yourself time to forget the criticism you had going. Chances are, you will see the work with fresh eyes. Eyes that are not seeking to destroy, but to make the work better.
Sometimes in our quest to make the piece better and better, we overdo it. This is another form of destructive criticism. If you’ve been revising the same scene for days and days, read it aloud or have your computer read it to you. If it sounds awkward or wrong, you might want to turn the work back to it’s original state or any interim. I save my work repeatedly with different names, or with incremental version numbers. That way, I can go back a version should I suspect I have over-revised the piece. This is a good way to avoid changes that make your work flat or stale or even awkward.
So remember to ask yourself if the change you are about to make will make your work better or if it will ruin it. It might slow you down, but your work will be the better for it. The absolute best way to revise your work is to get a professional editor to edit the work and give you feedback, but if you can’t afford to do that, the next best thing is to take your time and make sure that a simple word change only changes the word and not the tone of the entire piece. Don’t rush to publish. You will be glad you waited.