Criticism hurts. I understand that 100%. As a writer, I have faced criticism of my work. I have an English degree with an emphasis on creative writing and I have had to sit silently through in-person critiques, some of which went really well, and some of which left me somewhat frustrated. I’ve done the same in art classes. That’s the nature of creative work: we put a lot of time, effort, and yes, some of our heart and soul into the work we create. It resonates with some. It doesn’t resonate with others. We hear about both the good and the bad. And when we hear the bad, it hurts.
Last week there was some Twitter drama in the writing world. A well-established, much-loved author found an opinion about her work voiced in an article. She was hurt by what she read and shared a screenshot on Twitter. I’ll admit, I was a little surprised when I saw it shared publicly. But what surprised me even more was how her creative friends chose to support her: by putting down the person who shared the opinion, some using incredibly harsh and unnecessary words. And the situation snowballed: fans googled the article, found the person quoted online, and she has since shut down her social media accounts due to the harassment she faced. All because she voiced an opinion.
Yes, criticism hurts. But here’s the thing: it’s okay. People are allowed to not like our work. And they’re allowed to voice that opinion. We can’t control when or how or where they’ll voice an opinion, but they have the right to. The only thing we can control is how we respond.
When criticism comes…
reach out to your friends, but do so privately. This isn’t a message that needs to be broadcast to the world, especially in a world that’s so quick to react to something they disagree with in negative ways. Sometimes people think of creative endeavors as a solo experience, but they’re not. A few weeks ago my critique partner said the same thing: people think of writing as a solo activity, but it’s really one that has a community.
If you don’t have friends in your creative community, please find them. They’re the ones that truly know what it’s like and will be able to support and encourage you in the ways you need. And when you need to that support–like when you’re faced with criticism–please reach out to them. That’s what they’re there for.
When your creative friend is faced with criticism…
Focus on them. That’s what they need at that moment. Tell them how much you love their work. Tell them what you love about their work. Tell them why their work matters.
I truly believe that when you try to lift someone else up by putting someone else down, you’re doing them a disservice. When we ask for constructive criticism, that’s useful for our work. But if it’s just an opinion with nothing useful to help us grow… that’s the kind of thing we need to let go and leave behind us. When we’re carrying those words with us they’re a weight that will continue to slow us down and hinder us. They’ll continue to hurt. So move beyond those words. Focus on your friend.
What they need (what ANYONE needs) is to know that they are loved. That they are appreciated. That they matter.
Tell them that. Lift them up by actually lifting them up. Focus on them.
As a bonus, share your friend’s work on social media. You never know who might see it; maybe the person who needs to read their words or listen to their music at that time in their life.
If they’re really struggling, maybe send them a little money on Venmo to buy a fancy latte. After all, coffee fixes everything, doesn’t it? 😉 Okay, so maybe it doesn’t. But a surprise treat like that can be a bright spot in their day and reminds them that someone out there cares about them.
And that’s something we all need to be reminded of from time to time (or all the time), isn’t it?