I find it strange when I encounter creative people who see art as a competition. They are the ones who put down other artists, either to their faces to behind their backs, and they love to point out what they perceive as flaws in the work others produce. It’s not constructive criticism they’re offering. No, they aim for the self-esteem, the self-doubt.
Personally, I don’t understand it. From my viewpoint as a writer, I feel there is a limitless audience out there for books, for short stories, for poems. I read all sorts of books from all types of writers. It doesn’t matter if their traditionally published or self-published, if they have written fifty books or if it’s only their first. All I want is a good read, something to make me think or feel, and I want to support my fellow writers.
That’s why I enjoy giving feedback when I can. Lately, I’ve been a beta-reader for a young writer I met on Twitter. Every week he sends me a chapter from one of the books he’s working on and I set aside an hour or so to read it twice, then send him feedback. I point out things I see from both a writer and a reader perspective. Maybe it’s an awkward sentence, or maybe it’s something he could describe with a little more detail. I also point out things that I enjoy in each chapter, like a well written piece of dialogue or a line that perfectly encapsulates an important character trait. I try to give him a balanced report, some encouragement, and maybe help him to polish his writing skills.
I’m not trying to humble-brag here. I’m simply showing that art isn’t a competition. We should be supporting one another, encouraging each other, offering constructive feedback and promoting each others work.
But, unfortunately, there are artists out there who simply don’t get it. Maybe they’re secretly afraid their work doesn’t hold up, or maybe they’ve had a bit of success and feel that if anyone else succeeds it will somehow diminish their own accomplishments. Or maybe they’re just assholes.
I’ve seen it first hand and I’ve been a victim of it in the past. I’ve moved on, though. I’m a firm believer that, if you’re going to critique my work, then you better give me more than “I don’t like it” or “this sucks”. Great, you think my short story sucks…but why? Give me a reason why you think it sucks. Dialogue too stiff? Choppy narrative? Unlikable protagonist? If you can’t tell me why, then your criticism doesn’t mean anything to me. And no, it’s not going to affect my mood or my self-confidence in the slightest.
Over the years I’ve learned that I can’t gauge my skills or my self-worth as an artist by what other people think of my work. If they can give me honest feedback, point out things that I’ve missed or may not have thought about, and help me to improve my story and/or my skills, then I will be grateful and appreciative. But if they are just going to insult my work with no follow-through and try to make me feel like less of a writer, well, I’m not going to waste my time listening.
Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to have never encountered these people. If so, consider it a good thing. But if you do encounter someone like this, someone who doesn’t support your creativity, who makes you feel bad about your skills, or who tries to break down your self-confidence, then cut that person out of your creative life. They don’t deserve to read your stories, or view your paintings or drawings or photos, or listen to your music.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in life is that it’s too short for you to be wasting time on toxic people. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, cut them loose. I prefer to be around people who are positive, who offer support and encouragement, who help me to improve myself. I’m not going to waste my limited time on this planet feeling stressed, anxious, or miserable due to some toxic ass who puts me down so they can feel superior. And I’m going to do my best to help other artists. I’m going to offer constructive feedback on their projects (when asked and when time allows). I’m going to encourage them to push the envelop, to try new things, to approach their art from other angles…just because it’s fun to get people to think differently. And I’m going to buy their art and show it to others. Sadly, I can’t do this as often as I’d like to, but I’ll do it when I can.
I hope you’re one of the people who supports others, who mentors and teaches, who offers a hand when someone needs help getting up. We need more people doing this. Helping someone else to succeed won’t hurt you in the least. And besides, it’s a great feeling when someone sincerely appreciates your help.
But be careful…it can be addicting.