As creatives, criticism is part and parcel of our careers. Yet, because of our artistic sensitivity, we can often be the least prepared to deal with it. I once had a classmate in design school who would quite literally burst into tears whenever an instructor made a critical comment (justified or not) about her work.
Each semester I would find her reduced to a heap of tears and despair, threatening to drop out of school and leave all of her mean, awful teachers behind for good. Actually, come to think of it, she probably had some other issues that we weren’t aware of. But regardless, we’ve all been there at least one time or two.
Luckily, there are some ways you can deal with critics that will not only silence them but also provide you with even more fuel for your creative fire.
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The best way to address someone who is giving you unsolicited and unhelpful criticism is to turn it back on them. Make it their job to prove themselves to you, rather than the other way around. It’s been my experience that 99% of critics disappear when confronted with any kind of rigorous intellectual challenge.
Why? Because their true aim isn’t to help you improve, it’s to tear you down or it’s to find an outlet for their own jealousies and insecurities. Either way, it’s not constructive to either you or them.
When dealing with haters, it’s perfectly okay to be a snob. If you are confronted with a stupid comment attacking your work or your character in a nasty way, it doesn’t help anything to get angry and start a flame war.
Instead, try saying something like this: “it’s interesting that you should say that because my research (cite some book or blog post you read here) seems to suggest that the opposite is actually true. Is there some study or paper you can point me to that would validate your claim?” Bam! Hater, gone! No one is going to attempt to seriously debate with you when you’re so obviously prepared for an academic beat down.
The use of hatred as creative inspiration has a long and illustrious history in the arts. In fiction, no dramatic story arc is complete without the main character overcoming some sort of adversity, typically in the form of harsh, unfounded criticism of his or her abilities.
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When you do your homework and challenge your critics in a polite, serious way, you can send most of the packing. But you can also generate more inspiration for your work.
You can use the criticism of your past work to generate ideas for new projects. For example, researching a response to a critic may lead you to read about or experience something you never would have before, which can open the door for all sorts of new experiments in your professional or personal projects. In this way, I suppose even haters can offer you constructive criticism. Who knew?
Remember: for every mean or ill-informed critic, there are typically dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of people who will love and support what you do wholeheartedly. I know it’s easier to focus on negativity – human nature and all that – but there’s really no reason to.
If you’re focused on providing the most value to your targeted, niche audience that you possibly can, you won’t even have time to listen to the detractors. Eventually, most of them will go away because they won’t have a leg to stand on.
As for the ones who stick around? Well, obviously there’s something they find compelling about you or your work, or they wouldn’t bother reaching out to you. When most people genuinely dislike something, they assess that they dislike it, and they move on. But something about what you do is keeping these critics engaged.
If you’re so inclined, you can try to figure out what it is, so that you can do more of it. Usually, your critic will give you clues about what they’re so obsessed with, as they’ll keep mentioning it or pointing out how ‘intolerable’ it is.
It’s hard to shield ourselves from criticism especially with an audience as big and as globally diverse as the Web. You can’t keep everyone happy but you can, however, make the best of your situation and aim to come up tops, with the majority.
A few years down the road, you may even look back at this week’s terrible incident, laugh and think, "is that all there is? I’m so glad I didn’t actually give up that time. I’m so glad I didn’t let them win just because I couldn’t take a punch."