There’s one certainty in writing, or in doing anything creative for that matter – not everyone is going to like your stuff. In fact, there’s always going to be people who hate what you do. It’s just not their thing, they’re not going to like it no matter how you go about it. You can’t expect everyone to be supportive or positive about your work, because it won’t happen. Same as you, people like some things, don’t like others, that’s going to be the case with editors, publishers, judges – sometimes your stuff just won’t be their thing. You can’t take it personal.
The best way to combat this is to know who you are and what you want. I was listening to a podcast by artist David Choe once, where he was talking about his life and how he became an artist. Choe was basically a juvenile delinquent, vandalising whatever he could. He talked about how he grew up doing stupid drawings of G.I. Joe figures and his early drawings that you can find online are just that, scribbles no better than anything you could do (Choe notes this himself in one of his books). But he stuck with it, and over time he developed his own personal style. His work (in my opinion) is amazing, but as impressive is his persistence and dedication to his art. It wasn’t created for anyone else, it wasn’t designed with a commercial strategy in mind – Choe has said his options were become an artist or end up in prison (he ended up doing both, but that’s another story).
What David Choe’s story highlighted to me was that you need to do your art for you. You need to know what you want and be happy with what you’re doing. And to a large degree it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, you stick with what you want to create, what you feel passionately about doing, and you can create something that will be wholly fulfilling. Anything can be art, any means of communication you choose for what you want to create can work, can come together, you just need to be true to yourself and be able to envision want from your work. It doesn’t matter what anyone else wants, you put your heart into something and that is something that cannot be replicated. You are putting your individuality into your work, no one else can do that. As long as you can feel happy with what you’ve created, feel that it is all it can be, then it’s right.
And that’s an important note to keep in mind – that it’s all it can be. Most times you’ll know when something’s done right, it will feel complete. You’ll also know when it’s not complete, when you haven’t given it your all. If you put out work that you know isn’t complete, that’s likely to come across, that’s the feedback you’ll get, and you have to be honest with yourself. If someone criticises something you’ve done, you have to think ‘is this the best I could do?’ Sometimes you need to be confronted with tough feedback to get the best out of your work – it’s not a stop sign, not a signal for you to give up. You need to take feedback on and use it. Keep in mind what it is you want to achieve.
My approach with my writing is that I will listen to any and all feedback from readers who want to give it to me, good or bad. If one person says they didn’t like a section, I won’t necessarily go back and re-do it (it would depend on their reasons for disliking it). But if that same section is highlighted by more than one reader, I will definitely go back and re-read it and make sure it’s communicating the story I want to tell. If I can read my work back and feel happy with it, especially if I’m reading it back months after first writing it, then I know it has something. It may need more work to polish it, but I know there’s something there and I’ll stick with it.
You, as a writer, as an artist, should never be afraid of criticism or feedback. You need to get your work out there. But you need to know your work is, at it’s core, the best it can be from your perspective. New perspectives will help you enhance it, but you need to be the one who feels confident – it’s your work. It needs to be you, not what you think someone else might want. You’re going to get rejected and criticised, but that’s how it is. All writers get rejected. All of them. Don’t let rejection get in the way of what you want. If you know that you have done all you can, that your work is the best it can be, in alignment with what you want to achieve, then you should stick with it. Keep working, keep developing your own style. You only fail as an artist when you give up.