Creative works are hard to create. Writing, painting, photography, drawing, sculpting or anything else creative you do – they all require dedication to create. They require that you pour so many parts of yourself into the work that you’re revealing parts of yourself.
And this is why criticism can be hard. When someone says they don’t like your creative works, it can feel like they’re saying they don’t like a part of you. Logically, that’s fine. Not everyone is the same and not everyone likes the same thing. But it hurts more when the criticism is of your works because you’re already in a an anticipatory state about your creativity.
I liken it to layers of your skin. The thickest part is waiting on the review of your creative works. This leaves only small layers of skin below. All you need is to be tired, or something else on your mind, and the criticism of parts of your work that you relate to just pierce that last little layer to jab you right on a sensitive part.
Of course, learning to take criticism is part of creativity, just like it is of life. I’ve been lucky in the jobs and study I’ve done that I’ve had lecturers and bosses who are fair and genuine with constructive criticism, which helps a great deal.
But then you’ll come across people who just don’t seem to have a supportive view on criticism. Or you’ll hear advice you just don’t agree with, regardless of who it comes from.
I took a scriptwriting class as an elective in my undergraduate degree. One of our first assignments was basically an outline of the screenplay we were writing for the class. My review from my tutor was really less than favourable. My story idea was effectively called boring and the tutor made a range of suggestions to ‘spice it up’. Apparently my characters weren’t keeping big enough secrets from each other – the underlying themes of sex for power and relationships amongst the characters wasn’t good enough. It was suggested that they have something ‘more interesting’ like drug dealing going on.
Now, from memory, this tutor was beginning to work commercially in Australia as a scriptwriter. I have no doubt that what he was telling me was to be more commercial.
No matter the intention, it just didn’t sit right with me. That was not the plan in my head about how my story would develop. It felt cheap & nasty. I had the plots and relationships entwined in my head and I could see how I would reveal each character’s flaws, strengths and secrets. And then I was told that was boring.
Maybe the limitation of the assignment didn’t allow me to explain the complexity very well. Maybe I didn’t know how to explain the complexity. Maybe the tutor had his own bias in what he found interesting. Maybe I did too.
The story is still one I’ve kept. It’s one of the ones in my ‘one day’ basket. I’m unsure if it would work best as a novel or a movie though. The most important part though:
I decided it was interesting.
And in the end, you have to write something you like. Yes, there are audiences to consider, but if you hate what you write, I believe it shows.
How do you deal with criticism as a writer? Do you take it to heart, or consider if you want to listen to it or not?