When People Hate My Work – How to Deal with Criticism

people hate my work

I don’t know where you are in your creative journey, whether it’s in game-making, art, writing or whatever pleases you, but maybe you’ve had the “luxury” of having a particular Negative Nelly in your life. One of those possibly well-meaning individuals who, whether they’re capable of artistic modes of expression or not, are by their own estimation 100% qualified to judge your work. And it really just makes you think, “people hate my work.”

Dealing with criticism – often scalding and ill-informed, but always provided for the price of what it’s actually worth – is probably the worst part of the whole creative exercise.  Everyone’s pretty sure they’re an expert on art, even if they’ve never picked up a pencil.

people hate my work

Well, you know what they say about haters. Also, haters don’t like Scrabble, apparently.

“Why are you wasting time on something like that?”
“That’s stupid.”

Sound familiar?

“Why don’t you do something that will make you some money?”

Such encourage. Wow.

“Yeah, well, I know you’re having fun but that isn’t exactly something that’s gonna get you places in the real world.”

Any of that strike a chord? Make you bristle or hurt a little deep inside?

Now, for clarity’s sake, I’m not talking about people who bury themselves under a blanket in front of their computers for 15-20 hours a day hashing out their masterpiece, avoiding work, social life…and sunlight. 🙂 That’s just not a healthy way to live. Just being clear.

There are a lot of voices in this world. Each of them is trying to pull you into alignment, to some degree, with their way of thinking. It’s human nature, I suppose, to attempt to get others to see things the way you do. The hard part comes when the voices are close to you.

In an ideal tv-show sitcom world, at the end of every episode the problems are resolved, people tend to see more eye-to-eye than they did when they started. But that doesn’t always work out so neatly in real life. A lot of people have hard-headed preconceptions about art, for better or worse, and when you’re sharing a household with a self-professed expert, there’s going to be at least a little friction at some point or another.

“You can’t make a game by yourself.”

Pardon me a moment while I go get my list of indie games made by small development teams…

So you have these people…possibly people you love…throw stones at what is important to you. Maybe they even mock and ridicule your craft (yes, craft.)

I remember clearly, one day, someone passing by me as I was testing out some markers on a simple drawing and being asked “what are you wasting all that paper for?”

And then the motivation goes down the toilet.

dealing with criticism

Actual photo of a creative soul after being dealt a critical blow.

“People hate my work!”

Maybe they’re right.
This is a waste of time.
This is worthless.
Maybe I should just give up.

Stop. Stop right there.

Ask yourself, is it true? Is it really?

Let’s go over the fine points of the argument.

It’s not a waste of time.

This is probably the most important thing you can take to heart in any artistic endeavor. Let’s take a moment to repeat it again for emphasis.

It’s not a waste of time. No matter what anyone says.

This is also a very short bullet point because it contains a further argument that is difficult to scrutinize: Creativity requires no justification, nor can it be justified.

That’s right. You don’t have to defend your work. It is what it is, and its intrinsic value is simply in the fact that it exists.

Creativity is inherent in human nature, which leads me to my next point:

Creativity is the norm.

There are more than enough ancient evidences that show that humans, to some degree or another, have always been creative. It’s just a part of who we are. On some level, it’s just what we do – we make stuff that isn’t always strictly necessary. This is a concept we’re born knowing but manage to forget as we age and are subjected to a culture that tends to devalue artistic pursuits in favor of intellectual ones.

No one needs to teach little kids how to create. They just start doing it…though, granted, not always in the most desirable ways. (Marker on freshly painted walls, anyone?) At a period when free creativity is acceptable and expression is uninhibited, children freely produce what’s in their hearts and minds, until they reach a mysterious age at which it’s frowned upon to color and doodle and bring life to the creations of their minds on paper.

An article in Psychology Today quotes a kindergarten teacher who “got” it:
He said, “in the first grade the kids have to work all the time. There’s no more time for fun, because there’s so much they’ve got to learn. They’re not even allowed to daydream any more. It’s a wonder that any of them ever grow up to be artists or inventors. In kindergarten, on the other hand, all the kids are artists and inventors.”

This is sad. Who knows what innovations and stories the world may have missed out on because of that? If you have maintained this skill, don’t throw it away.

dealing with criticism

If ancient people could take time off from hunting dinosaurs or whatever to paint a design on a pot, you can do what you love, too.

Art Improves Life

Going back to a previous point, let’s think a moment about ancient folks. People who lacked modern conveniences found time to make elaborate statues, detailed friezes and skillful paintings. They even decorated common household items like pots.

Why? Why put all this time that could have been used for something that would improve their quality of life?

Because art DID improve their quality of life. Beauty around them made possibly difficult lives a little bit nicer.

By now, we should be on the same page as far as the value of any artistic pursuit. But how do we apply this to our situations?

Keep the following in mind:

Not everyone gets that creative expression is an extension of a creative’s identity.

To create, especially in storywriting, often requires delving deep into “self” (ripping off a tiny piece of your soul, as it were, to inject in your characters…if you’re that type.)

Non-creatives can’t be made to understand that every single serious thing you write carries a fragment of your “self” because they’ve never had to make that sacrifice before. They’ve never taken the risk of exposing that shard of self to someone else and never risked the rejection that can come with it.

In this sense, because your work is an outpouring of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, any rejection of it is, in a sense, a seeming rejection of you. And that rejection directly translates into “people hate my work, so they don’t like me, either.” Rough.

It’s okay to have hobbies that don’t turn into life missions or careers.

No one has to go to the same level to justify other hobbies.

No one expects you to open a bakery because you like baking cakes.

You don’t have to become a vet just because you happen to like taking your dog for a walk.

It isn’t necessary to become a professional hairdresser just because you like trying new hairstyles from Pinterest.

It’s not a logical extension to assume that all hobbies must profit…it’d be great if they did, but who said they had to?

people hate my work

Sometimes you gotta be a colored-pencil person in a marker world.

Not everyone is going to create in the same way.

Maybe your critic is artistic, but of a different sort. Maybe they’re a traditional artist while you’re perfectly content with cel-shaded anime drawings.

There is not a single way to prove the “superiority” of one form over another. It is all purely subjective.

Some people are just jealous…

…and they don’t know how to handle it. In my opinion, they are more to be pitied than to be maligned; as mentioned before, they certainly at one point had the ability to be creative, but it was snuffed out for one reason or another. It’s possible, on some level, they are aware of what is missing, so they feel inadequate and cut down other people instead of rebuilding the lost skill.

…or maybe they’re just obnoxious.

Not everyone out there enjoys the same things…but some people just aren’t polite enough to realize that. (You know what they say about opinions, after all.)

As contrasted with the jealous mentioned above, some people have zero sensitivity to creative sensibility and just puke up whatever comes to mind without really thinking about the damages they might inflict along the way. Not everyone realizes a small touch is all it takes to shatter fragile ambition. Unless you have a really compelling reason to listen to anything they say, ignore them.

dealing with criticism

It’s probably better to leave the ring before it comes to this, though.

Nasty comments and criticism aren’t the same thing…

If the comment wasn’t made in the spirit of truly helping you, beware taking it to heart or listening to it at all. Do not let anyone shame you – shame is never a productive reaction to any situation. If you aren’t sure if it’s a valid point or not, get about three more opinions and see if a theme emerges. Don’t ever go on the snarky input of a single individual, regardless of how valid it might seem at the time.

…and you aren’t creating for those kind of people in the first place!

Create for you first, then for the audience who actually will enjoy that work. If you create something that you truly enjoy, it will resonate with someone else out there too. Don’t hide your work from these people; you need a healthful counterbalance to the negativity you’re receiving.

If they can’t say something nice, they shouldn’t say anything at all.

If it’s a person you can say such a thing to, please ask them to only make comments that will improve the overall quality of your work. However, this probably won’t work out in most situations except for those who are truly ignorant of the impact of their words.

people hate my work

Sometimes the fight just isn’t worth it. Retreat to the pillow fort and regroup.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but keep hiding.

Most of the time, there’s literally nothing you can do to change another person’s opinion about something. Often, it isn’t even worth trying, and all you can do is keep your work under wraps to prevent friction within your social group/household.

Dealing with criticism is harder for us

Most of the creatives I know tend to be a bit more sensitive than others. I’d say it’s not a stretch to assume that we take criticism harder because we have this sensitive, observant creative mentality. That’s why it’s important for artists and game-makers to support each other, on a level that each of us understands, to help ensure each other’s successes.

Just keep trying. Don’t let Negative Nelly keep you from your potential. Don’t let them convince you that “people hate my work!” You may not be there today or tomorrow, but persistence will yield results eventually. Your game may never be a AAA game, but you might feel like it the first time someone says “I love your game!” and you’ll be glad you didn’t give up.

Have you had trouble dealing with criticism from friends/family? What did you do about it, if anything?

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