In my late teens and early twenties, I was the shit.
That's what I thought. It wasn't a completely unfounded belief, mind you. I'd been told so many times how brilliant of a writer I was. I was going to be a famous novelist: rich, well-known, with my books sitting on a bookshelf between Stephen King and Anne Rice (big names then and still). I was going places and the pats on the back, head, and nods in my direction fueled my mindset that I was really all that they said.
I was immature, unseasoned, unchallenged, and could not take criticism to save my life.
In that time, I sent short stories to anthologies and magazines, sure that they would snap me up and I would leave the military a published author under the tutelage of a major publishing house. On one occasion, I received feedback from a short story I'd submitted. I won't tell you who it was from or what anthology, but idiot that I was, I'm pretty sure I tossed it as an affront to my generous skill and expertise.
Yes, I still wrote in passive voice. I also did a plethora of other major faux pas in writing (cliches, shifting tense because I thought it sounded cool, perfect characters, etc.). I couldn't take the criticism and couldn't understand why I was getting rejected. I'd always been told how amazing I was and friends, teachers, and family couldn't be wrong, could they?
It took so many rejections, giving up for several years, and taking new writing courses before I even came close to understanding what good writing really was. I'm still learning every time I open a document to write, edit, or proof. I cringe when I look at my earlier writings not because the stories are necessarily bad but because the writing is gawd-awful (blame my grandmother for overuse of that phrase -- and it always sounds like someone is describing a rank stink when it is said in her tone).
Even my first publishing credit had me rebelling against what the publisher wanted. I will support my stance only in that they wanted me to change the ending and I couldn't see a different way to end the story. They still published it, but it was a little less prominent than it might have been had I been able to give what they wanted.
Some of you will read that and immediately get your hackles up. No, I'm not saying to write your stories and change them at a whim to suit some publisher that wants you to fit into a mold. I am saying that sometimes we are asked to make small adjustments based on our own ignorance of what people will read and our inability to see how someone else reads what we've written for comprehension. We see our story a certain way in our heads, but it doesn't always read that way to someone who doesn't live in our own mindspace.
Criticism is important to helping us all grow as writers. I teach this because teenagers, especially, think that everyone is trying to insult them by offering them criticism. Now, some teens don't know how to properly offer assistive criticism and that's something they have to be taught. Some, though, want to immediately argue out of what they're being told by peers or even their teacher. It isn't uncommon to try to reason your way out of what someone tells you needs work. The same thing happened with adult students in the Master's courses I took on Creative Writing. People don't want to feel like they're being told that they're "wrong" or "bad" at anything.
That's not what criticism, true criticism, is. Someone who is taking the time to tell you where work needs to be done is not doing it through a sense of ego or trying to bully you. They are putting their own necks out there to try to HELP you become better. We cannot write alone. We can start the process alone and do aspects of it independently, but we need others. No writer is so amazing that they can do completely without an outside editor. Writing takes a village if you want to see that writing in print. Criticism is a necessary step in that process.
This is how I know a writer will be successful -- they are willing to listen to the advice of others, incorporate some or most of that into their writing, and they don't take offense at the criticism being given. If you argue, if you try to justify why you don't feel the need to change a damned thing, you will fail as a writer. Writing isn't just about our characters experiencing growth, we the writers must be willing to grow and change as well. If you cannot or will not do that, this isn't a job you should pursue. Ego has no place in writing success, so check it at the door, grow thicker skin, and become BETTER.