You’ve slaved away for ages. You are proud of your work. You’re a bit nervous about showing other people but you finally pluck up the courage. You are hoping that people will fall to their knees and tell you that you’re an incredibly talented genius.
Instead they say “I don’t get it. What’s it supposed to be?” or “It’s .. er .. nice” or that killer way of telling someone that they haven’t done very well – “How to you feel about it?”
It can be crushing. Your creative project has become a piece of you. To hear criticism is like being knifed through the heart. It’s your baby. How could they say that? You’ve read all those blogs that said that you had to put yourself out there, and you have, and now you are devastated.
Try to separate your ‘self’ from the art
Firstly, congratulate yourself. You not only had the discipline and talent to create something in the first place, you also had the courage to show it to the world. Well done. Give yourself a huge pat on the back.
Secondly, now you have to cope with what has happened. Try to separate your ‘self’ from the art. Your music, your sculpture or your writing, it isn’t you. Sure, it’s come through you but it is not part of you. Any criticism of your work is not levelled at you personally, even if it feels that way.
In her book on creativity, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says to guard against thinking of your work as your baby for precisely this reason. Making your work your baby is too dangerous because you can be so wounded by the rejection or criticism of it that you might not keep creating.
Gilbert also warns not to show your work to people who are ballsy and loud in their opinions particularly those people who are proud to tell it how it is. These people will destroy you.
How should you seek feedback?
When you want feedback for your work, choose someone with a kind, gentle disposition. When I show someone my writing I tell them the kind of feedback that I am looking for. If I want them to spot grammatical or spelling errors, then I just ask for this. Sometimes I ask people not to give me negative stuff unless there really is a sentence or paragraph that is so bad that it jars too much as they read it.
As time has gone by I am more open to hearing a variety of feedback as I know that the resulting piece is usually stronger after it has been critiqued. But I still choose my audience wisely.
It is also good to have a cheerleader on your side. This is someone who has really got your back creatively and will gently support you when you having to deal with negative comments. They can help you see the positive side of any difficult feedback and encourage you to keep going.
Keep an open mind while you are listening. You don’t have to change anything, it is your art. If a lot of people are coming up with the same objection then they may have a point which you could at least consider. Ultimately though your job is to speak the truth that is in your heart, not what someone else thinks should be there.
Recovering from negative criticism
Negative criticism or rejection will happen from time to time. It goes hand in hand with being an artist. You need to learn to cope with it so see this time as part of your artistic training alongside honing your craft.
Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to lick your wounds and pamper yourself but keep creating. You can keep your creations to yourself for a while until you feel strong enough to put something out into the world again. Don’t let people with loud mouths, who often know nothing about what you are doing, stop you from working.
This moment could be your greatest turning point but you have to go back to your work, put your head down, make something else and keep going. Remember, when you get your break and receive rave reviews for a piece of work it will be because you were able to keep going during more difficult times.
Every artist, musician, writer or actor will receive negative feedback at some point. The people whose work you admire have all been criticised and will all have felt pain because of it. However, they dusted themselves down, learnt what was there to be learnt, kept producing and kept putting it out there. You can too.
Over to you
What are your tips for dealing with negative criticism? How did you get through it and keep creating? Have you changed your approach when seeking feedback of your work?
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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view.