Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly

Immunising Your Creativity Against Criticism

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The dreaded needle

It’s three weeks till Jessica heads off for her overseas trip, and today she’s having vaccination shots.

Now, do correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe vaccinations work along these lines: The nurse injects a weakened form of the virus into your body for your immune system to practice on. Your immune system bumps off the lurgy in fine style, creating antibodies (not antibiddies as I just typed by accident, although it does provide a fantastic mental picture of large middle-aged women running around the bloodstream biffing germs where they stand)…ahem, creating antibodies so if your body ever does encounter the real thing, it’ll flatten those blighters as soon as look at them. Sound about right?

Well, it occurs to me that a similar concept can be applied to protecting your Creativity from a dangerous affliction blighting the existence of Creativities the world over – Criticism Poisoning. (Like Blood Poisoning for you guys. I realise the rest of the medical side of what is to follow is shaky, but the concepts work in my world, if not in yours. And really that’s all that matters at this point.)

Now, while some Criticism is necessary, even helpful, there are some very nasty strains floating around. The “What made you think that would work?” strain is a doozy, and the “When are you going to get a real job?” strain is very dangerous. Exposure to these and other strains can leave your Creativity feeling extremely ill and even kill infant ideas. If exposed to Criticism for long enough, Creativities can become paralyzed.

Symptoms of Criticism Poisoning range from sluggishness and numbness through to complete creative blanks – a truly dreadful thing for a Creativity to endure.

The more often you show your work to the public, or tell someone about your ideas, the more likely you are to risk infection. Every time someone reacts to your work, whether verbally or simply through body language, they may offer criticism. When that happens, you risk exposing yourself and your Creativity to Criticism Poisoning. At times you can even infect yourself by allowing inner Criticism to take over.

What should you do?

There is a Treatment!

When you travel overseas, there is always the chance you will catch something. Some places you’re just likely to catch the flu, or a mild tummy bug. In other places, you can catch real nasties like Malaria or Hepatitis. Does this mean you should stop at home and never travel? What a boring life that would be! And there’s no guarantee you won’t end up with something just as icky while wrapped up snug at home. So, doctors suggest you enact a two step plan. Immunizations and boosting of the immune system.

The good news is, these steps work the same for your Creativity. Here’s how.

Immunization

As I mentioned before, immunizations expose you to a weaker version of the disease. Why not expose your Creativity to a weaker version of Criticism? You want to provide him/her with the necessary antibodies (or tools) to fight the infection as well as provide the confidence that this disease can be cured.

So, before plunging yourself and your ideas into a public arena where you are sure of coming in contact with a critic at some point, find an occasion to expose yourself to a milder form of Criticism. Perhaps from a friend.

Find someone you trust to be kind, but provide you with solid feedback to an idea – the good and the bad. You’ll feel the initial smart when they tell you your idea needs work, or when they explain that the outburst of laughter in the second paragraph of your short story was not because of your sparkling wit but a typo. Embrace the stinging in the back of the throat. Learn to remove the emotion (disappointment, rejection, embarrassment) from the actual facts – the idea still needs thought, you need to pay more attention to the spell checker, etc. Practice looking past the pain and seeing the possibilities.

Once you feel confident enough to take your friend’s ‘Criticism,’ move on to another friend or family member, this time looking for someone with a little sharper tongue (like a caustic cousin or a grating great-aunt). Ask for an opinion from someone you know is very opinion-happy, but make sure the situation and person you choose will not spiral into hate fest or damage a relationship.ย  Once exposed, take the natural hurt and work with it. Find the kernel of helpful information without getting bogged down in the emotion.

This will take time and practice. Some immunizations require multiple doses to be effective. This is one of them. But stick with it. The ability to survive Criticism is imperative to seeing you and your Creativity through the highly infectious times.

While immunizing, don’t forget to work on the second step.

Boosting Your Immune System

Garlic. Horseradish. Echinacea. The list goes on and on. The idea behind them is that by boosting the strength of your immune system, you are giving yourself more strength to fight sickness.

How can you boost your Creativity’s ‘immune system’?

One effective way is by reminding him/her, and yourself, of your achievements – however big or small. Remembering that you are creative, capable and successful (even in small things) will make you more resilient. It will also provide your Creativity with pictures of past accomplishments, reminders that he/she is capable of doing it all again.

Another method is to remind yourself how you feel about being creative. Does it make you happy? Do you feel fulfilled? Peaceful? Whole? Are you doing this to gain the appreciation of all your peers, and then the world? That last one isn’t a good enough reason. You’ll never please everyone. But if you’re doing it because of the first four feelings listed above, then that’ll keep you going. Those are positive feelings. Healing feelings. And after a bout of Criticism, you need healing feelings. (Try saying that four times fast with a mouthful of biscuits. Healing feelings, hilling fillings, hulling fullings, falling hillings.)

What about reading examples of writers, artists, actors and others who have received criticism for their work, even while many were showering them with praises? Criticism doesn’t just happen to people who are beginning or who are ‘below par.’ It happens to everyone. You’re not alone.

Of course, our favourite method is to find yourself a good friend who can offer soothing words when you and your Creativity are feeling particularly off-colour. Sometimes a good ego stroking does help. But only to a point. I’m sure there’s only so much garlic one can take as well, although I haven’t yet found the limit…of ego stroking or garlic. ๐Ÿ˜›

Monitor Your Creativity’s Health

Unfortunately, whenever we share our creative endeavors we are always exposing ourselves to Criticism. Our vaccinations may need renewing from time to time. We will always need immune boosting.

But the best thing to remember is: While Criticism has the potential to cut you down, it can also make you stronger. A lot stronger. The key is learning how to find the kernel of useful information – the spot where you can improve – and then using it. But more about that later.

Right now, I’m off for some immune boosting.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

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12 thoughts on “Immunising Your Creativity Against Criticism

  1. “Practice looking past the pain and seeing the possibilities.” Great advice. I was listening to a CD from Ali Brown the internet marketer today and she said something similar–make decisions from where you want to be, not where you are. That can also be applied to creativity…

    You are going to be blogging on your trip, aren’t you?

    • Interesting quote about making decisions. I suppose it’s like those mazes in magazines. There are multiple exits but only one has the treasure. You can start at the entry point and work your way through the maze, or you can (if you’re okay with cheating) start from the treasure and work your way back to the start. Oh, have I just admitted to a very bad habit?

      I do intend to be blogging during my trip. ๐Ÿ™‚ However, there is a possibility I won’t be able to access my blog, so I’m going to ask one of my friends to act as caretaker while I’m away. I’ll feed the posts through to her and she’ll work her magic. But more information on that in a couple of weeks time…when I have actually worked out the particulars.

  2. Excellent metaphor, love it. I’ve a couple to add:

    (1) Exercise builds up your heart and lungs, which helps you stay vital and better resist viruses, similarly, simply exercising your creativity – performing, practicing, repeating, gaining muscle memory can provide a buffer to the criticism bug. Repetition builds confidence and skill – both effective deterrents to creativity bugs.

    (2) Sleep/rest helps your body recover from the wear and tear of every day life and also helps you resist infection. Similarly, your creativity may just need a break from time to time. If you’ve been working your arse off and your creativity seems dull, lackluster and numb, give yourself a break to do something completely different. Or give yourself permission to do nothing. When you come back, your creativity will be more energetic and lively. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Brilliant points! I totally agree. Thank you for sharing. ๐Ÿ™‚

      You know that dreadful feeling you have after someone has criticized your work and all you want to do is curl up in bed and mope? Turns out, you get the same feeling after vaccinations. It’s day 2 and I still have a sore arm and no motivation to do anything.

      • Wonderful analogy. Definitly one to come back too. Lots of little gems of advice to stuff into My Creativity’s bulging pockets. Pockets so full they are scarcely hidden by her voluminuos petticoats.

        Any suggestions for the self-critic? I think the self critical mind is more like food poisoning than a vaccination but then I suppose that valued supportive friend is the antidote to give you balanced supportive feed back, Eh?

      • Yes, the Self-Critic is a different matter. A supportive friend is always a wonderful antidote. ๐Ÿ˜‰ A firm hand to keep the Self-Critic in his place is also important. But this is a subject we shall need to explore in far more depth I think.

    • Thank you for your sleep/rest reminder amikim. It is something we all know but often forget. My Creativity has been working overtime. Today I laid on the grass and starred up into the cloudless sky, then wrote a long snail mail letter to a friend.

      It was deliciously rejuvenating!

      • wonderful – I love both the idea of resting on the grass beneath the sky AND the idea of a snail mail letter – so retro it’s hip (in my mind at least :))

  3. Pingback: Favourite Posts You May Not Have Read – Creativity’s Picks « Creativity's Workshop

  4. The worst way to be prepared for a strain, to only get half the shot. I generally prefer to lump a whole manuscript at them instead of a partial. Editimg as you (in my case), is so destructive especially sense I underwrite anyway.

    Then there is the strain of random people copying your characters, brainstorming with you, and then putting it in their own book. Which is fine in speculative, not wo much in biographicals.

    • In my experience it is best to send through a whole manuscript instead of a few chapters. Then your beta reader(s) know where everything is headed. It also ensures you’ve finished your manuscript before you go looking for feedback. Nothing stops your first draft in its tracks quicker than criticism halfway through. I learned that the hard way.

      If you’re finding that people in your writing group are making you feel uncomfortable by ‘copying’ your work, perhaps you should find a different group or get yourself an editor/writing coach instead.

  5. Oh I posted before mentioning, the the strain of “well that just sounds like a waste of time.”

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