Creative Chronicles #1: Dealing With Negative Feedback and 6 Tips To Overcome Self-Doubt

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles

If you want to grow your audience and clientele, you have to get comfortable with sharing your work. The more work you share, the more likely you’ll get hired for future projects. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. Have you ever been afraid to share an outcome? Me, too.

I remember project critiques in college well. We sat around in a semi-circle with our freshly printed work taped to a wall. I was never self-conscious about sharing my work in this closed environment because I knew I’d given it my best shot and my class was super tight-knit, with maybe 20 students.

Early on in critiques, I began to notice something: a positive comment would elicit more positivity. The more someone raved about a particular design solution, the more the rest of the class would chime in because they began to see the same thing. Positivity bred positivity.

And, when something didn’t quite work with a composition and someone was brave enough to point it out, the same thing happened but in reverse: constructive criticism, while good natured, often opened the floodgates for negative feedback.

Being a creative, whether you’re a writer, fine artist, designer or photographer, requires a really thick skin. Whether your project is self-initiated or paid work for a corporate client, each is a piece of your soul that you’re bravely standing up and sharing.

I’ve been sharing my design work online for over a decade now and luckily when I started, I had a nearly non-existent audience and social media wasn’t really around yet. There was no pressure since nobody was watching, which I now see as a huge benefit. What started out with fooling around with a digital camera and Photoshop brushes in 2003 led to me enrolling in a design program in 2006. While I sometimes cringe when I come across that early work, I’m still proud of it. It shows an evolution and with each project, I learned something new.

A decade after sharing those early projects (which elicited a mix of good and bad feedback, I might add) I run a thriving design studio. Even today, while some of the projects I share produce a ton of leads, others, even though I’ve given them the same care and effort, fall flat. Not everything you produce is going to be a winner but what matters most is that both you and your client feel great about the outcome. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Dealing With Negative Feedback and 6 Tips To Overcome Self-Doubt

If you’ve ever gotten negative feedback, it can be hard to stomach sharing more work but I want to encourage you to keep going.

Here are 6 tips to overcome self doubt and get back out there:

1. Practice, practice, practice.

Your first piece of work will never be your best. And, that’s just more of an incentive to keep trying new things and evolving. Always date the work you create (if it’s digital, add it to the file name) and look back at it on a yearly basis. It’s amazing how much you can grow when you devote yourself to your craft every single day, even if it means setting aside 15 minutes on your lunch break. Get those 10,000 hours in! And, if someone starts digging in and criticizing you, ask yourself: have they dedicated themselves to 10,000 hours of anything? Probably not. Then, get back to work!

2. It’s easier to criticize than create.

By sharing your work, you’re being brave and you deserve credit just for that alone. While you might have spent days, weeks or even months producing a piece you’re proud of, it only takes someone 10 seconds to leave you a nasty comment. How does that really measure up? If you let negativity silence you, it’s only going to hurt your career and prove the negative commenters right. Instead, use it fuel to push yourself to create even more amazing work.

3. Develop a support system.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sharing your work — negative feedback can still really sting. That’s why it’s important to develop a network of close friends and industry peers that believe in what you’re doing. I have a few friends I reach out to when self-doubt starts to creep in. Sometimes, all it takes is a shift in perspective. Instead of wallowing in sorrow and beating yourself up, reach out — the sooner you do, the sooner you can move onto creating your next piece.

4. For every hater, there’s a lover.

Truly great work doesn’t elicit a “meh” reaction. It attracts and repels in equal measures. Think about creatives from all walks of life including Damien Hirst, Marilyn Manson and Robert Mapplethorpe. People have strong reactions about all of them.

5. Know that you did your best.

If you feel that you’ve given a project your best shot, then why does the negative feedback even matter? Remember that people don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. There’s a story beneath the surface of the work they’re viewing. Deadlines, client feedback, process sketches, meetings, piles of revisions….these all play into the completed piece. You have to remember that a reaction is often tied to a quick glance at the outcome. You know what you put into a project and take solace in knowing that you gave it your all.

6. Separate constructive criticism from meanness.

This is a tough one but often, there’s a kernel of truth even in negative feedback. It’s not always apparent when it’s laced with venom but if you set it aside for a few days and let your emotions die down, you can often improve upon your original project. Of course, there’s a big difference between being downright mean and offering constructive criticism. Some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten was from my creative directors at the studios I worked at based on mistakes I’d made — to this day, I still use it when I’m working through a project. Is the type on my business card designs at least 6 points? Is the body copy on my page layout easy to read? Did I print out my work and proof it before sending it off? Find people you trust to weigh in — that feedback can take a project from good to great, before you release it.

It’s your turn! Do you have any tips of your own for handling negative feedback?

12 Responses to Creative Chronicles #1: Dealing With Negative Feedback and 6 Tips To Overcome Self-Doubt

  1. This post is so great and so true!! Every creative experiences negative feedback on their work at some point and it can be hard if you don’t know how to deal with it. And hell, i’d rather by Marilyn Manson than Martha Stewart anyway! (Although lets me honest, we do love Martha too!)

    • Shauna says:

      Exactly! What’s the point of being middle of the road? If you’re serious about your craft, own it fully! Live it and love it, no apologies necessary!

  2. Mel says:

    Top tips Shauna. Social media seems to be overflowing with people who do nothing more than criticise and belittle the efforts of others. It takes a heck of a lot of courage and conviction to share your work with the world. And the only way to be truly great is to practice, and practice and practice. This one’s going in my end of month link round up. Nice work!

    • Shauna says:

      Mel, thanks so much for your kind words! I think it’s easy for others to dismiss how much courage it takes to share your work in the first place and I hope this is a reminder that kindness goes such a long way.

  3. winnie shek says:

    A wonderful post, really lovely to read and very well timed, as i’ve been quite lazy with blogging and sharing my work as I felt a little over-whelmed by the amazing work so this is the perfect confidence booster I needed. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Misaki Shimizu says:

    I am sorry, but I want to share this, because it still hurts me sometimes.
    Last year I worked for a company with 3 different CEOs (they shared the company). While two of them were really nice, the third one was a choleric.
    The company was a start up and they never wanted to take time for defining their brand identity – like an exact color, images used etc. They just changed it how they felt that day.

    The CEOs also had different views on how they wanted to have things designed, so when I got approval from two, the third one would always want something completely different.

    Because I didn’t have any brand guidelines I had to guess what design was expected of me (Mockups were often just rectangle scribbles on the back of some paper).
    I could never get it right, so several times that choleric CEO screamed at me in front of other people, literally saying my work is just shit. One day he even said, if I ever produce shit like this again, he would fire me on the spot.

    Still, I would just try to fix it to something he would like and I have to admit, at least it always looked better than before.

    Well, what I learned from it was that even though the feedback can be really shitty, if you try to improve it, you can produce a nicer outcome.
    But also, that I don’t want to deal with this kind of people anymore.
    I guess it somehow made me stronger in the end haha

    Anyway, thank you for always sharing useful tips for us designers :)

    • Shauna says:

      Wow, that sounds like such a bad situation! Glad you got out of there! Funny enough, I once worked for a small ad agency that also had 3 CEO’s and one would give me direction, then the other two would come through shortly after that with completely different feedback. It made getting anything done very difficult. Ahhhh! Situations like you were in are never easy but they make you appreciate when you work with kind people. Now that I’m the boss, I go out of my way to be understanding, flexible and a decent person. There’s no excuse for being mean, pretty much ever.

      • Misaki Shimizu says:

        It is awful having too many people meddling with your work, isn’t it haha?
        But it’s true, such people and situations can always at least be the bad example we don’t want to follow 😀
        Now, I think, we made it through such things and grew because of them ❤

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