• Advice

How to find (honest) constructive criticism

So you’ve finally finished that passion project! Hours of tears, blood, and sweat, and there she is… your baby novel, or painting, or website.

At first, you’re so proud - but then the self-doubt starts to creep in. Is it silly? Is it poorly made? Is it embarrassing and shabby, after all of that work? Is your baby… ugly?

You’re losing perspective, so you need an outside eye. But how do you find it? How do you find honest constructive criticism?

Ask for it

It’s not actually that difficult to find constructive criticism… if you really want it. Too often, we tell ourselves that we don’t know anybody who can help us; our seeming-isolation is a great excuse for inaction. But without constructive feedback, it’s hard to find (and fix) holes in our work – and thus reach our full potential!

Abandon the safe walls of defensiveness and excuses, and find strength in vulnerability… great rewards may lie ahead.

If you’re looking for helpful assessments of your craft, look around your existing social and professional networks. Whose work do you really trust and respect? Who tends to be straightforward and blunt? Which of your loved ones knows how to give support, without sugarcoating? Whose opinions really matter to you, personally? Those are the people you want to reach out to.

Once you pinpoint your would-be critics, ask them directly for HONEST constructive criticism of whatever work you want to focus on. Emphasize that you’re looking for real feedback, not just praise – that’s often enough to break through people’s protective layers of politeness. Ask honestly and openly, and you shall often receive honest and open opinions.

Pay for it

If you’re looking for a truly objective, unbiased advice about your personal life, you find a therapist. If you want truly objective, unbiased advice about your professional life… it may also make sense to hire a professional.

Taking a class or hiring a coach is a great way to find a qualified, open-minded critic. Your best friend may have a wonderful eye, but she may be afraid of hurting your feelings while critiquing – and a really good teacher will be less inclined to value your momentary happiness over your work’s substance. What’s more, hiring a professional helps provide a path to progress; a great teacher not only gives perspective, but also offers solutions!

Really do your research before jumping into a class or coaching environment; find someone who knows their stuff, and jump in!

Put it out in the world

Perhaps the best way to find constructive (and not-so-constructive) criticism? Put it out in that big scary world.

Every novel is the most brilliant novel imaginable when it’s sitting in your desk drawer; there, your literary baby is safe, untested. It can be really, really frightening to send your work out in the world!

But without getting other people’s feedback – and not just your networks or your teachers – you’re not really braving unknown waters and testing the full potential of your work. Bravery of this kind is, unfortunately, a muscle. You must exercise it.

If you’re too petrified of sharing your work, you give the Big Scary Public power over you – yes, power even to kill your dreams. The only way to grow a thicker skin is to make your work the best you can, solicit some criticism, and then, finally, unveil it to the world! They may love it! They may hate it! They probably will have a mixed reaction – you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I bet you’ll be more kindly received than a raging tire fire.

Allowing your work to be seen and criticized will teach you something about its strengths and weaknesses, yes – but it will also teach you about your own. YOU are strong enough to take criticism and use the most helpful parts of it to improve and thrive… all you have to do is seek it out!

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.