Bounce Back from Harsh Creative Feedback
Maybe you showed your work to the wrong person.
Maybe you showed your work too early in the process.
Maybe you’re not happy with what you’ve created.
Maybe your creative esteem is on the fence.
No matter where you’re at, harsh feedback never feels good.
Oftentimes, what we create comes directly from the heart and this form of feedback feels shoots right through and pierces a hole.
I’ve seen entire creative lives get derailed by one misguided, ill-intentioned comment.
Plus, we never remember the positive uplifting comments like we do the words of criticism. We’re so quick to jump on the ‘not enough’ train and ride it straight out of town.
Like many artists and creatives, I didn’t really jive with the stiff, inflexible structure of the education system. I would write something I was proud of, something that felt true, and it would be returned to me covered in red ink. I would often receive mild comments like, “please, Katherine, next time follow the guidelines” or “this is not the required length, please revise”. But sometimes, I would receive something much more cutting like, “more research, less stories please” or “this content is inappropriate and unreadable, please redo”.
This feedback is relatively tame compared to some of the horror-stories I’ve heard from friends. Some have had a parent say something like, “you will never be an artist, be realistic” or “who are you to think you can make it as a writer?”
In her life-changing book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes these people as ‘Creative Monsters’. Let me tell you, they are EVERYWHERE.
And, unfortunately, they’re often the people we know and trust most. They come from parents who have let their own creative life shrivel and die, friends who are scared to see you change and grow, and teachers who see your budding, beautiful creative work as a reminder of a voice they haven’t honored within themself.
So, how do we stay open to the feedback that helps us grow and transform while remaining discerning about the feedback that’s meant to cut us down?
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’ve received harsh, critical, or deflating feedback:
Does this feedback move me forward?
Is there any value I can take from this feedback?
If you answered ‘no’ to these questions, it’s time to make peace with the feedback and let it go. Here’s how to let it go in a healthy way so that you can move on with your creativity:
Write down how it feels to receive this feedback.
When something upsets us, our thoughts can snowball and make something the size of a pea into something the size of a mountain. Suddenly, a sentence like, “not your best work” turns into “you’re completely useless and will never create anything of value as long as you live”. It’s helpful to allow this rush of emotions to move through and out of you. While you’re writing, feel all of that intense energy leaving your body through the pen. Let yourself be angry, defeated, sad, confused, bitter, depressed. Start the sentence like this, “I feel…” Go for as long as you need to.
Shake it off… literally.
I’ll be honest, I do the ‘polar bear shake’ A LOT. It’s a way of moving intense energy through your body and releasing it quickly. I do it whenever I’ve encountered a toxic person, received harsh feedback, or been in a place where the energy was dark and heavy. Here is a video that shows how to do it, it’s really simple and you can do it anywhere (although you may get some weird looks :)
Write your work a love note.
Take 5 minutes and write your creative self a little love note. Write down all the things you love about your work, write about the things you’re proud of, write down the reason you do the work and the way it serves you and others. This can be as simple as writing down a loving mantra and repeating it while you take yourself for a walk. Your mantra could be something like, “I love my art”, “My writing brings me joy”, “I love being an artist”, “I am an artist/writer/musician/poet/dancer, and I love my work”
Lastly, release the negative feedback.
The point of this final piece is to physically remove the feedback from your life. If it was a hurtful comment online or in an email, take a deep breath and delete the message. Envision it wooshing out of your life. If it was a paper or document, throw it away, crumple it up, or burn it. As you do this, imagine it exiting your life. If it was something said to you, close your eyes and say, “this feedback does not serve my highest good, I am releasing it and letting it go”. As you say this, take your hand and act like you’re throwing something out or away from you. Visualize the feedback leaving your body, mind, and life.
I hope this was helpful and here is something I want you to know:
You are an artist.
Your work is valuable, beautiful, and worthy.
Keep creating. Keep honoring your creative soul.
You are wonderful. You are loved.
You are an artist.