Criticism is sometimes tough to hear and can be a fatal shot to our creative efforts if we let it.
Creating art and sharing it makes us so vulnerable, but it’s important to get feedback in order to improve. Catch 22, eh?
I was talking to a friend and thinking about how horrifying it is to put our work out ‘there’ for people to see and invariably critique. Most of us struggle with that. Sometimes it’s an editor or a reviewer. Sometimes it’s our own inner editor who is most decidedly a hag.
Wherever the critique comes from, how we deal with it can make or break our ability to produce more art.
I was trying to think of the worst criticism ever (trust me the list is long and painful!) and I realized that my worst criticism is always whichever is the most recent criticism.
Whatever someone said that rattles around in my brain and causes me to doubt every decision I’ve ever made. Including what I ate for breakfast, my choice of college degree, number of children I have…well, you get the picture.
Recently, my editor told me that she thought I “phoned in” a portion of the book she was editing. I proceeded to race down an emotional rabbit hole. I cycled through murderous thoughts like automobile manslaughter, self-loathing accusations (how could I send such shit out to an editor?) and defeating self-talk like “Why do I write? I should just quit and watch TV all day”.
Repeat often and harshly.
After a few weeks of that crazy train, I opened my computer and got to work. I took her suggestions to heart and took a scalpel to my book. And added 20 thousand new words. I pored over notebooks working on plot lines and story arcs. I used pink highlighter everywhere. I babbled to anyone who would listen about my story arc and where it might be weak. I continued to curse the editor’s name as well as the next ten generations of her family as I tore away and shredded my hard work.
As I approached completion of those hard changes and prepared to send it back to her, I realized how much better my book was for having re-worked it.
Damn her and her feedback. It was right. And helpful. Thank the stars above for people who are willing to read our first draft crap and offer advice to make it better crap. (-:
A quick aside: It’s always tempting after getting feedback to want to hide your work and never show it a living soul again but it’s important to not give in to that fear. I didn’t actually phone in that portion of the book. I was truly against a wall in terms of what to do with it. I had to send it out. It needed fresh eyes. And I don’t regret letting it see daylight. The truth is that the book needed that boost to be better.
I think the take home message for me in this experience is just to get to work. Don’t overthink it. Paralysis by analysis or whatever. Just dive in and own that book.
And if you have thoughts that are “I am awesome” or “I am shit” — ignore those.
Every single time.
They are lies. We are neither great nor terrible. We just are. Doing our best, one word at a time.
I’d love to hear your ‘worst criticisms’ and what you’ve done about them! And check out this short clip from Ira Glass that will help you feel better. I promise.
Go forth and create, people. Even it’s just dinner. It’s still art. I’m gonna hunt down a cheeseburger with brined green chiles because food art FTW.