Friday, October 13, 2006

5. Learn to Love Criticism

Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of everything is crap. And it’s true. Chances are that the first time you did anything, you were terrible at it. This even applies to that magnum opus I just encouraged you to finish. In fact, it probably applies more to that magnum opus. But if you’re going to get good at anything (you want to be good, don’t you?), then you’re going to have to learn to deal with criticism.

Here’s your first lesson: don’t ask anyone you are having sex with to look at your work. Nor should you ask your parents. In fact, anyone who is emotionally involved with you in any way should be out of the question and here’s why: you will not get a fair critique. And chances are that if you do, you will not enjoy getting it.

Instead, you should find a peer review community (a writer’s circle being the best example I can think of) and start showing up for it. Submit your material and don’t be surprised if you’re told that it’s not very good. This is normal.

At this point, you have two options. One is to get pissy and stomp off, vowing never to return to that bunch of losers ever again. The other is to listen to the constructive criticism that’s on offer and figure out what you did wrong. I’m going to leave it up to you to figure out which response will come off as mature, adult and credible.

It is soul-crushing enough to realize that you will probably not make money with your art. It is even more soul-crushing to realize that you’re probably not very good at what you are compelled to do. Get over it. Everyone who matters gets criticized and you are not going to magically avoid that process, no matter how much you want to.

In fact, if you are serious about your work, you will learn to welcome criticism. It’s good to know what you did right, but more than that, it’s good to know what you did wrong so you can fix it the next time. Remember that talent grows. More than that, it can be taught and trained. But it takes patience, effort and a lot of hard work. (Sometimes, even more hard work than finishing your first project.)

Learning to deal with criticism is very important. But what can be even more important is the need to find reviewers whom you can trust and whose opinions you respect. With any luck, they will be willing to help you become the best artist you can be by giving you honest, unfiltered feedback. These are your peers and they will be more valuable to you than an audience ten times their size.

Why? Because they will know how much work and struggle went into your project; they do the same kind of thing, after all. And when you get to the end, they will be there to congratulate you and offer you the praise that you’ve earned. They will have seen you grow as an artist and get good.

But it is critical to remember that creativity is an ongoing process. You will not get good overnight. You will not earn the respect of your peers overnight. You will not learn from your mistakes overnight. You will fall down. And you should fall down, because anything that is worth doing involves a degree of risk. You have to be willing to fall flat on your face if you think something is worth doing, because if you do not take that chance, you will not run the risk of actually succeeding.

Take chances. Get bloody, bruised and beat up. And whatever you do, learn to admit when you’re wrong. It’s probably the best thing you can do as a mature, adult human being. I promise.