Social media has made it really easy (and popular) to share our opinions as we experience them. It’s become instinctive to post our immediate thoughts on whatever book/movie/show/etc we’ve recently taken in. The plus side it that it’s a great way to find people who like the same things you do. The downside is that it seems like negative opinions are more unpopular than ever.
As much as I think it’s okay not to like something (and to say as much) I think sometimes we’ve become too critical, and I think it can hurt us as writers. If we’re overly critical of everything we experience, it can also make us overly critical of our own work. As writers, we are often our own harshest critics to begin with. If we experience art from an overly critical perspective, it becomes a habit to look for problems instead of celebrating strengths, and it can make our own book’s problems seem more pronounced.
In order to be more open to positive qualities in both our own work and in others, we first have to figure out why we’re being so hard on art in the first place. With that in mind, here are five reasons you might be judging art to harshly and how overcoming them can help you as a writer.
1) You’re trying to make the work what you want it to be
It’s important to remember that art is something that is shared with you, not necessarily created for you. As creators, I think this can be easy to understand, but difficult to keep in mind. We write the stories that matter to us and we write them how we believe they are meant to be told. Therefore, it’s easy to understand where another creator is coming from. However, when you’re a writer/creator/artist yourself, you can probably see a number of “better” choices that could have been made in the piece. But when you do that, you’re trying to make the work your own in a way that’s not fair to the creator or the work.
Instead, try to understand and appreciate the decisions the artist made. You may still not like the outcome, but it’s important to acknowledge the reasons and vision of the artist. This can also remind you that you have the same power when you work on your own projects.
2) You might not be the intended audience
I think we can all point to at least one song/book/movie/etc that everyone seems to love but we hate. (I know I can.) Does this mean “everyone” is wrong? Does it mean you’re wrong? Of course, it doesn’t mean either of these things. It simply means, that for one reason or another, you are not the audience for this particular piece of art. Instead of being overly critical and tearing the work down, step back and appreciate the fact that this work is simply for other people to enjoy.
This is something else that should be celebrated! It’s a reminder that even if one person doesn’t like your book, it doesn’t me no one will like your book. Your work will not speak to everyone, but it doesn’t have to. It only has to connect with those who will get it.
3) You’re holding on too tight to reality
Sometimes in order to fully appreciate a piece of art, you have to agree that the unbelievable is possible. You have to agree to suspend disbelief for the sake of experiencing a killer story. Every story has its own rules, and sometimes those rules won’t jive with the world we’re used to living in. Even if you’re reading a contemporary story, the rules of the real world may be broken for the sake of the plot. And sure, you could nitpick and point out everything that’s “wrong”, or you could agree to enter a world where what’s being presented is true and enjoy the story for what it is.
This can help you learn that it’s okay if your story doesn’t 100% line up with the rules of the real world. The important thing is to be consistent and follow any rules you establish.
4) You’re comparing your own work to what you’ve seen
If you love writing a certain genre or type of story, it might be easy to compare your own work to every similar type of story you take in. Typically in this case, writers are either looking at why their story will never be “as good as” the story they’re experiencing or why their story is so much better than what they’re seeing. Both aspects can hurt you as a writer.
First, being overly critical of your own work is just as bad as being overly critical of others, and comparing finished work to a work-in-progress isn’t a level playing field. It can be discouraging. For the sake of your story, you need to do everything you can to avoid putting yourself in that situation. If you think your story is much better, it may trap you into thinking that you know all there is to know about a genre, which can prevent you from improving.
The bottom line: nothing good ever comes from comparing.
5) You’re looking for perfection
No piece of art is ever truly perfect. Yours won’t be either. It’s unfair to hold a piece of art to an unrealistic standard of perfection. And by coming to expect perfection in the work of others, you will start to demand it in your own work. This can be both discouraging and impossible to achieve. Perfection doesn’t really exist. You have to write a story that makes you happy and one that is as good as you can possibly get it. This may not mean that it’s perfect, but it doesn’t have to be perfect to be outstanding. Instead, embrace imperfection and celebrate what is working. Appreciate art for the success that it is and learn to do the same with your own work.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t be critical ever or that you should be positive about something that you genuinely don’t like. The point of this post is to help you stop focusing on the negative aspects of art and start appreciating the positives. The positives are what you want to emulate, and they’re what you should try to find in your own work too!
As always, I hope this helps!
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Now it’s your turn: Have you ever caught yourself being overly critical of art? Did you notice how it affected you? How did you reign it in? Tell me about it in the comments!