Receiving advice and criticism isn’t easy. I like to say you need a Teflon-coated ego if you’re going to put yourself out there in any creative field. And if you’re a sensitive soul [like me, I fully admit it] that can be difficult to achieve. How do you get there?
“Knowing Who You Are” is the key to everything: that’s how I interpret and take in the advice and criticisms given to me in a way that doesn’t break me, and that allows me to actually glean the important, useful parts.
Being able to gracefully take advice and criticism is one of the most important skills that any creative person can possess. As someone who finds herself in creative roles that have thrust me into the public eye over and over, being able to roll with the punches when it comes to how people receive my work has always been a battle, but one worth waging. You just can’t get up in front of people, on *any* platform, and put yourself out there without expecting razzes with the praise. It’s what some people just do. In fact, I recommend preparing yourself for the possibility that the jeers will outweigh the good words! I firmly believe in the idea that it’s easier to be prepared for disappointment with the hope to be pleasantly surprised, than the opposite. Not everyone is going to like or appreciate your work. That doesn’t mean your work is bad!
The trick is to be able to separate valid criticisms from a general “this is not my jam” reaction. Same goes for advice, especially advice that goes against your instincts or raises a pushback reaction. That’s when it’s important to sit with those words for a while, and really take some time to reflect on why they are triggering that response in you.
I’m going to use myself as an example here, because that’s how I roll, and I have no problem sharing my vulnerability and ego weak points. [please do laugh here!]
I threw a piece of writing out there recently to get some editing advice. I read the suggestions returned to me and my heart sank. The editor I was most interested in took my writing and ripped it apart.
Except… they really didn’t. They ripped into it, sure – but not to destroy it, rather in order to point out all the places where mercilessly editing it would tighten it up and make it a better read overall. Was it brutal? Sure, to my ego, for about five minutes. Then I got over myself and paid attention to what was being suggested. Some things I didn’t agree with, but I earmarked them to revisit in a bit while they tumbled around in my head. Other things were “duh” revelations, like a continuity problem here or there, or an overlooked grammar mistake.
After I sat awhile with those suggestions that I didn’t agree with, I went back and re-read with the edits in mind, and with a sincere effort to read the story like it hadn’t been living in my head for a while. Did I end up using all the suggestions? No, I did not – but I did use some of them, and the whole experience caused me to go back and look over the rest of my story again with fresh eyes, and make changes in other places. I came away feeling that my writing was improved, but still felt like mine. It’s still not perfect, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the writer who is 100% satisfied with her work, but that gives me glorious room for improvement, yes?
That’s what I mean when I say “know who you are.” I know what I want in my work. I am pretty confident in knowing my strengths and weaknesses – and I’m also aware that I have both of those that I might not see because I’m too close to the material. That doesn’t make me a bad writer [musician, artist, whatever] – it makes me a human one. I know who I am, what I want out of my work, and what I’m capable of; knowing that gives me the space to allow others to offer words that can help me improve. And knowing who I am also gives me the strength to reject or ignore the criticisms that aren’t designed to be helpful.
Does it always work? Hell no! But keeping grounded in that knowledge can help me weather the worst and keep growing. And that helps me to improve my craft, as well. Win-win.