A creative person’s ego is like a lily’s petals: fragile and easily destroyed.
If you’ve ever grown a lily, you know what I’m saying. A strong wind can rip, or heavy rain can pummel the petals right off the flower’s blossom.
You also know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever shared something you created with another person. Sometimes, anything less than voluptuous praise can tear your inner self asunder.
At the bottom of every issue of my newsletter, Writerly, readers have an opportunity to provide instant feedback about that email. They can choose from five options, ranging from “Bad” to “Love it!”.
In this week’s email, a reader gave the issue a “Meh” rating. Seeing that nearly sent me into a tailspin of negativity.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “Someone doesn’t love my newsletter. What am I even doing? I should delete it and go live in a cave alone with just a pet goat to keep me company.”
But I’m not currently coming to you from a cave, and, no, I didn’t delete Writerly.
Here’s how I pulled out of the emotional nosedive one piece of so-so feedback sent me into, and how you can, too, when you receive anything less than a positive response to your work.
It’s Not About You
First, let’s accept that not everyone will love what we create. Unfortunately, that means we’ll receive negative, or at least not overwhelmingly positive, reviews.
Let me rephrase. At some point, our work will receive negative, or at least not overwhelmingly positive, reviews.
That’s a significant difference. Responses our creations receive are not reviews on us as individuals. (Yes, people sometimes lodge personal attacks veiled as criticisms of our work. It happens, though I’m not sure it’s frequent for most of us.)
One of the first steps I took to pull out of my tailspin after a reader gave my newsletter a “Meh” rating was to realize their feedback wasn’t about me. Even if it was, my takeaway from their review shouldn’t be about me. So I had to remove myself from the equation.
It’s crazy hard not to take negative criticism of our work personally. We are, after all, making ourselves vulnerable and pouring our existences into what we create.
But we have to realize that most times, we’re not the target. Our work is. Accepting that is the only way we can continue creating, and it’s the only way we can grow as creators.
And It’s Not About Praise
Similarly, we need to understand we’re not creating for accolades. Or, at least we shouldn’t be.
We should be making stuff because we want to help people and because we want to contribute to society and our culture. Many writers, for example, attempt to help us better understand our world through their writing.
And some writers, such as myself, try to guide and inspire others. We share from our experiences and backgrounds in the hope of giving others the tools and encouragement they need to grow.
That’s something I had to remind myself after getting a lukewarm review for Writerly. The newsletter isn’t so other writers can praise me. It’s so I can help them, to give them something each week they can use.
Reminding myself of this mission allowed me to shift from fretting over the “Meh” rating to appreciating it. For one thing, someone cared enough to provide feedback to the email. That’s something to celebrate.
But, more importantly, they tipped me off that I have more work to do to deliver on Writerly’s mission. Their rating lets me know, at least according to one reader, that Writerly needs more something to be the indispensable weekly email for writers I want it to be.
Remembering why you create and making sure it isn’t so others will praise you will put you in the best mindset for using negative feedback to grow.
The Devil’s Not In the Details
What changes do I need to make? Honestly, I don’t know.
The downside of Writerly’s easy ranking system is that it doesn’t allow for detailed feedback. That’s OK, though.
Sometimes the feedback our work receives is vague or inarticulate. For example, maybe the critic does a poor job of pointing out the issue they have with your creation, or perhaps they misplace the focus of their criticism.
But we don’t always need accuracy and specifics from our reviewers. Instead, we can use negative feedback as a pause for our work, giving us a moment to reflect on what we’ve done to see if we can do it better next time.
You may disagree with what someone says about your work. Or, you might not get much information about what someone doesn’t like.
No problem. Use the moment as an opportunity to review what you created and see if you can identify areas for improvement.
Don’t agonize over the specifics or lack thereof in the reviewer’s input. Look instead at the totality of your creation and see if you can find one or two things you’d like to try doing differently next time.
Three Lessons for Pulling Out of the Tailspin
And that’s how I decided on two tweaks that I think will nudge Writerly closer to the newsletter for writers I believe it can be.
First, I will change the format to make it easier to see the links I’m sharing. Secondly, I’ll be more mindful of the links I include to ensure they’re focused on helping creative writers while removing anything superfluous.
As creators, we will receive negative, or at least lukewarm feedback for our work. Unfortunately, when we do, it’s easy to nosedive into a pool of negativity.
But when poor reviews strike, keep these three things in mind:
- The critique is about your work, not you.
- You’re creating for reasons other than receiving praise.
- Don’t get caught up in the details.
Remembering these truths can pull you out of your tailspin and set you up to benefit from the input so you can continue growing as a creator.
This article originally appeared on Medium.