A critic is someone who can provide important and helpful feedback about your work. 

They can give you specific insights and suggestions. This kind of criticism is excellent. 

Critics are helpful for creativity

If you have genuine, helpful critics, listen to them. 

No, don’t take every word they say as the ultimate truth. 

But if they are giving you specific and thoughtful feedback, listen and be humble. No one’s work is perfect. We all tend to be blind in some areas. Think of your critics as assistants, as coaches: they give you a new set of eyes, ears, and impressions. They broaden your perspective.

Plus, learning to humbly receive criticism and pull value from it is a foundational creative skill. 

It will help you improve. It will help you figure out what to learn next. It can help you understand who you’re really talking to. Often, the audience we imagine is quite different than the audience we actually have. A thoughtful critic can help you get to know the audience you actually have.

Haters are not helpful for… anything

But then there are the other kind of critics. Let’s call them what they are: haters.

They don’t like your work. They probably don’t like you.

A hater is someone who will never be pleased with your work, no matter how many improvements or changes you make.

A hater’s negative reaction comes from their own internal issues.

A hater’s “criticism” will often include insults, personal nitpicks, generalizations, and challenges. Their criticism isn’t really criticism; it’s an attack. Their intent is not to raise your creative standards, or point out flaws and ways to improve; their intent is to belittle and provoke.

When you respond to a hater — to defend your work, to discuss their points, to debate their point of view — you’ve already lost.

How to spot a critic

Three characteristics make a helpful critic:

Critics have valid expertise in the work or the subject. 

If someone meets the other two criteria for being a critic, but doesn’t have the valid expertise, then what they give you is feedback from a fan. It can be helpful; but it’s not the same as a critique from an expert. 

Critics have paid careful attention to the work they’re critiquing. 

They took some time to understand it. Otherwise, how can they offer you actual insights or specific suggestions?

Critics provide specific points of praise (yay!) or possibility (also yay, really): 

“I like the way she opened the chapter with immediate action.”

Keep an ongoing log of praise and positive feedback. Read it when imposter syndrome comes swooping in.

“I didn’t like the dialogue. It felt awkward and unreal.”

Use these insights to improve your work. In this example, you can now review and improve the dialogue. You’ve learned that it reads as awkward and unreal, to a qualified expert. That’s helpful. Now you can go back and make it better.

Patterns in criticism

Patterns in criticism are helpful. For example, if you get negative responses to your dialogue multiple times, there’s an area to improve:

When a particular criticism is repeated, pay attention to it. 

It can show you how to improve your craft. It can help you gain the skills that will actually increase the quality of your work.

How to get criticism

What if you’re not getting any genuine criticism, and you’d like some?

The best way to generate more is to ask.

You can ask your audience: 

“I made this, and I’d love to get some feedback and thoughtful criticism. If you have a few minutes, please let me know your thoughts.”

Even better, include a few specific questions for your audience to answer. Or point them to a form or survey they can fill out.

You can also ask select people. 

Think of folks you know who are qualified to critique the work you do. Then ask. 

Be specific and ask for a small time commitment:

How to respond to haters

Haters will show up.

Here’s how to handle them. 

First, distinguish between haters, critics, and fans. 

When you find haters (or they find you), starve ’em out. They feed on emotion and reaction. Give them neither. That’s the way to handle them.

Either don’t respond at all or develop a one-line response and copy-paste it as needed:

Personally, I like the simplest example: “Okay.” 

It’s enough. 

It’s a clear message: I’m acknowledging you, but you’re not worth my time or attention. I’m not emotionally upset or provoked by you. In fact, I find you kind of sad and funny. Bye.

When you respond to creative work by others, it can help to think of the role you play. Are you a fan giving feedback? An expert providing specific and helpful criticism? Or a hater spewing negativity? 

It’s not worth your time to respond to haters, and it’s not worth your time to be one, either. 


Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

February 14, 2019