Many years ago I shared a short story I had written with a woman who was among my acquaintances--not a close friend, mind you, or someone I viewed as an encourager. For whatever reason, her opinion suddenly mattered to me. After reading my story she smirked at me and said, "I know someone who was published in The New Yorker." (Yes, that's it, the sum total of her feedback.) Assuming that her comment meant my work would never see the light of day, I slunk away into the shadows of my own embarrassment.
Creativity does not thrive in a vacuum. Eventually, what you have created in secret or composed on the sly wants to come out and be noticed. This is where things can get tricky, particularly if you are new to a creative pursuit. In these instances, soliciting feedback can be an emotionally difficult process rife with vulnerability and hurt feelings. Worse yet, there is the danger that you will turn a less than enthusiastic response into rejection of you.
The solution is not to hide your work. Someone in your circle will give you gentle encouragement or constructive feedback--provided that you are discerning, particularly when it comes to choosing your "audience."
Feedback, as they say, is a gift, although it may not always feel like the present you've been waiting for. I remember an editor years ago who loved my writing and loved my concept, but just couldn't accept what I'd written because "it would be better if someone famous like Oprah wrote it." (Well, I'll get right on that one.)
Inanities aside, real critiques are helpful. With some self-love and discernment, you can make it through the feedback process without having to check afterwards to see if you have tire marks across your heart.
1. Know your encouragers. In your circle of family members, friends, and associates, there are certain "encouragers," people who have the maturity and capacity to stay out of their own way long enough to focus on you. An angry "ex" anything (spouse, lover, best friend...) is probably not the best critic for your work. Bottom line: Don't go to an empty well when you need encouragement.
2. Be considerate of others when you want to share. A holiday party may not be the best venue for reading your poetry, nor is a late night call the ideal time to play your music with your cell phone held up to your cello. Just because you're ready to perform, doesn't mean that even the most compliant of encouragers is receptive in that moment. Ask first, then share.
3. Let your audience know what you're seeking. When I hired a freelance editor recently, I was very specific about what I was expecting from her. I wasn't looking for compliments (okay, maybe a few...). I wanted to know where and how I could improve what I'd written. If you're new to a creative endeavor, however, you may only want the validation of having completed something. If that's the case, let the other person know.
4. Recognize that feedback is not only a gift; it is an investment in your creativity. As a writer, I have had more rejection than an awkward kid at the high school dance. Amid all the form letters and vague replies of "this material does not fit our current needs," there have been a few stellar pieces of feedback that truly encouraged me. These editors gave me direction, pointed out areas for improvement, and told me to keep on writing. Granted, no was still no, but these rejections were gifts wrapped up in an investment of constructive criticism. What you do with that criticism can lead to eventual acceptance--and success.
Photo: Flickr/Sean MacEntee