The give-and-take of creative critique

diver is midair, headed for lake water with companions in background

Asking for others’ critique could just be the thing that sets your work free. (Good thing, it goes both ways.)

I used to hate having my work critiqued. It made me itchy.

Over the years, I’ve learned to love it. In fact, I’m usually much more proud of my work as a result of others’ critique.

A little backstory: I lost my job in 2012 and it took a year to get back into the workplace. Yet another year later, I was job hunting again. Since the freelance and consulting work found me, I decided it was probably what I should be doing.

But one thing I’ve missed about the workplace is being with people. I’m an ENTP (read: extrovert who likes to start stuff), I love being, working with and learning from others. That includes critique of my work.

Because un-critiqued work is almost never the best possible work.

In my view, it’s work that no one really cares about. I get it that people are busy and may not have extra bandwidth, but getting someone’s input on your work is critical, not only to quality but to buy-in, especially if your work proposes changes that affect others. Socializing ideas is always easier when others have seen the preliminary work and have an opportunity to contribute their thoughts.

The fear of feedback

It’s understandable to fear critique like the plague, since it can feel like a personal jab to something that’s a part of you…like kicking your dog or something. Consider instead that you can get a lot of satisfaction knowing the core idea is yours. Others will just help you polish it up a bit.

In the end, critique is about collaboration. If you’re a believer that “together we’re better,” it’s a lot easier to swallow.

When giving or receiving critique on creative work, try the following:

Take a dispassionate approach to the critique.

  • Don’t take things personally.
  • Take your emotions out of the equation and consider, “If this were someone else’s work, might I have asked similar questions?”
  • Consider the role – rather than the personality – behind the critic’s feedback. What bases or interests are they trying to cover or represent? Does it help more to include it than it would hurt to leave it out?

Take every piece of feedback and put it into a checklist.

  • This isn’t so much so that every single suggested change is made, but so you can see the range and scope of changes and how they can impact your end product. Maybe there’s a pattern in that feedback that begs your attention.
  • Do the suggested changes make sense individually? Do they stand on their own?
  • More importantly, would the feedback make sense if it were all applied?

Consider the end user.

  • Will they understand the work as is? What questions are they likely to have, with or without the applied feedback?
  • Does the input provide more answers than questions? If No, there’s more work to do.

Give others the benefit of the doubt.

  • It’s true, there’s a kook in nearly every bunch who wants to throw you under the bus. Ignore them. But don’t necessarily toss out their feedback. If you’re on the same page regarding end-product quality, it’s worth considering others’ insights before assuming they’d just rather see us burn in hell.

Ultimately, it’s your work and, at the end of the day, the feedback is yours to take or leave.

But there’s one more question that if you ask nothing else, you must ask, it’s this:

Will this input make the end product better? This is the most liberating question of all, because it forces us to let go of “ownership,” releasing our work into a larger community.

  • No? Nix it.
  • If Yes, the rest should be a piece of cake.

Now, go make some great stuff!

9 thoughts on “The give-and-take of creative critique

  1. Thanks Nydia. I was tempted to suggest some edits, but since you’ve already published I’d like to add a few points that are important to me:
    1) consider the source (related to the paragraph following “consider the end user”). I had a supervisor who was different from me in almost every way, and his input frequently made my work worse. I eventually wanted to ignore everything he said (hard to do when it’s your boss), but even he occasionally had a good point. You hit the nail on the head when you asked “what interests are they trying to cover?” His goals were often deceptive or disingenous, but sometimes his suggestions did improve the clarity of my work.
    2) The criticism I value most is criticism I’ve asked for, and in that case it’s easier to accept it dispassionately. Getting slammed from someone out of the blue always triggers more emotion.
    3) If you repeatedly ask someone for suggestions, and then never act on them, your critic may eventually disengage. Think about why you’re asking the person you’re asking, and whether you really value their input.
    4) “Yeah, looks good” is not really a critique. Treasure the people who take the time to respond thoughtfully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Steve that last one is so right. Made me chuckle. So is the point about considering why you want someone’s input. Consider your edits accepted! Thanks for taking the time, Steve.


  2. I enjoyed this post. I, as a student for majority of my life, have always been terrified of the comments from my professors. Within the past couple semesters, I have developed a love/hate relationship with their critiques.


    • No doubt. There will be some things that are easy to let slide and other critiques you’ll want to fight for. That’s where being original and on-point come in. Just pick your battles, and always consider the source.

      In a lot of my blog posts, I talk about my family history (genealogy). Kind of fell back into it revisiting a term paper I wrote in college, which my prof scratched up way more for stylistic preference than for content. I’ll admit it stung a lot, but looking back on his comments – they make so much sense, I’m going back and revisiting some of the things I wrote.

      Thanks for taking time to read, comment and especially for the reblog, Cecil!


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