Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

Dealing with criticism (you can sweeten it by calling it feedback, comments, or impressions if you want… but they all amount to the same thing: disapproval) is never an easy thing because it can poison your soul and destroy what you love most: your creativity.

The reason criticism hurts so much is that an artist puts his or her own identity in their representation or interpretation, so that a casually given two-star review or a disposable hurtful comment on a social network can feel like an attack on your unique character. It feels personal because it is personal. It’s as rude as saying you have an enormous nose. Except it’s actually worse than that: because the artist has put themselves (their innards) on the line for that piece of writing… they labored for their artistic creation and they made themselves vulnerable — they revealed themselves — just to guide, help, or entertain those weaselly critics.

The writers knew from the start that by revealing their sensibilities and conceptions, they would face criticism, because that is the transactional nature of art, but when criticism arrives (as surely it must) it will be a demoralizing experience that might lead to a period of self-examination, self-discipline, and even self-persecution. Where does this take an artist? It takes the artist into a place of meanspiritedness (for his neighbour) or worse-still, into a period of self-inflicted demotivation.

the transactional nature of art

How does a writer deal with a confidence crisis?

We could take a lesson from Mozart who said, “I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings...”

And that’s quite a good place to start. But here are a few tips that go a little deeper.

Self-confidence doesn’t come free with oxygen. It has to be earned. As an artist, you must refill the confidence-cup every day. How? By performing better (in your own eyes) that’s how! — and when you perform better in your own eyes, you’ll know it! Because you’ll feel the pleasure inside your heart. You will know when you have done well because intuition will tell you so. How can I be so sure of this? Because that’s how we all work. It’s a natural human sensation.

hesitation goblin

But beware the little seed of doubt that is laid by something I call the hesitation-goblin.

The nasty little hesitation-goblin hides a seed in the back of your mind where you don’t notice it at first. And in the darkness the seed grows into something that’s quite difficult to cut down. Before you know it, you have a fully developed confidence crisis blooming inside your brain and what happens then? I’ll tell you what happens: Some mouthy gadfly comes along and drops a flipping-great wodge of smelly slurry all over your precious creation. What did they do? They fertilized the seed of doubt didn’t they? They fertilized the seed of doubt that was already growing in your mind.

So the best news is that you can forgive all the critics, even the prominent critics, and all the naysayers, and all the carpers too, because it’s not their fault. All they did (the nasty, vapid, dross-wits that they are) was to re-vegetate your own secret misgivings by pouring manure all over the seed!

So, first, you must remove the critics from this feedback loop. Turn your back on their weasel words. The next thing to do is to take back control of your honest writing… that way, you’ll ward-off the pesky hesitation-goblins. But how do you do this?

  • Write about things that excite you
  • Write directly (and only) from your heart
  • Write what you feel
  • Write about what is activating you right now. Find the trigger, then release the energy
  • Write when your heart is full of ideas
  • Write without self-judgment, discover your own solutions
  • Avoid fixing and proofreading as you go along (wait a few days before proofreading for grammar, punctuation, and formatting, for example) this allows you to enjoy the free spirit of writing
  • Be impish, be feisty, be impetuous. Write with gusto
  • Be brave enough to dig deep. Gone deep already? Go deeper!
  • Write every day… write big, write small, write long, write short… but above all write passionately

You have enemies? Good.
That means you’ve stood for something…

― Winston Churchill

Good luck! And I wish you lots of happy creative writing! Thoughts or comments? tweet me @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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