Some criticism comes from the well-meaning but misguided. They are afraid for you, and imagine that your life would be better if you weren’t rejected or even noticed. And so, they will express their fear by criticizing your dreams.
Some criticism comes from the broken-hearted. They are bitter about what happened to their dreams, and it’s easy (and perhaps a bit satisfying) to stomp on yours.
Some criticism comes from the ham-handed. They haven’t practiced the skill of criticism and even though they might have something to contribute, it’s not coming through.
and some criticism…
Some criticism is priceless. It comes from someone who understands the genre and has seen the dynamics at play. It is delivered by someone who feels the fear (for themselves and for you) but decides to show up regardless. It is offered with grace and care, preserving dignity without sparing the insight that you desperately need.
Here’s a simple test: Find a not-well-known but demonstrably proven piece of creative work. If you’re a screenwriter, take three pages from Casablance or Citizen Kane. If you’re a novelist, consider something from a beloved author in your field. If you’re a songwriter, grab the lyrics from a song that works but isn’t obviously recognizable…
Now, show it to your friend the critic.
The first thing that you’ll notice is that it’s much harder to take the criticism personally. After all, you didn’t write the thing.
The second thing you might notice is that, to paraphrase William Goldman, almost no one knows anything. The notes you’re getting on this critically or commercially viable piece of work will be all over the place. Too long, too short, too obvious, too subtle, who knows…
And now you’ll know the truth. Actually, there are a few:
- The work is the work, it’s not you. Criticism of the work, if it’s done well, isn’t personal.
- Useful criticism is precious. When you find it, take good notes and send flowers.
- Ignore the rest.
One more thing: If you’ve ever been asked to provide criticism, spend some time to get good at it first. You can crush someone’s spirit if you’re not careful.