You Can Be a Critic or a Creator (But You Have to Choose One)

“It is not the critic who counts.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

Recently, a friend recently released a book with the disclaimer, “If you don’t like it, write your own book.” I love that.

Seek Feedback, Ignore Criticism

We live in an age when criticism is easy. It’s expected. But is it necessary?

One of my favorite things on the Internet lately is a clip from the Howard Stern Show when a listener calls in to offer some “constructive criticism.”

Howard politely interrupts the critique saying, “not necessary.”

The listener is flabbergasted. He’s offended, insisting that Howard needs his feedback.

The seasoned shock jock curtly replies,

If I listened to feedback, I’d have quit on Day 1.

I used to say that feedback is always a gift, but is it always? I’m not so sure anymore.

Note: You can listen to the audio of this lesson by clicking the player below.

Lesson 5: Seek feedback, ignore criticism

Less than a month ago, I issued a challenge to some friends to make and share one new thing per day for 30 days. We called it the “practice in public” challenge based on an idea in one of my books.

The idea was this: Professionals make things every day and then they share them. That’s how they get better — by making things.

Professionals make things every day and then they share them.

Jeff Goins

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Amateurs, on the other hand, wait for their big break and hide in the shadows until someone discovers them. Incidentally, they are the ones who are quick to criticize those making things.

Which one would you rather be: the brave creator, or the cowering critic?

The only question that counts

As part of this challenge, I ask one simple question on a daily basis: “What have you made today?” It’s an important question, one we get to ask twice:

First, we ask this question to ourselves because before we do anything, before we attempt to lead or offer advice or criticize, we must first get in the game.

Second, we can ask this of others. Everyone, in fact.

You don’t actually have to confront these people, though sometimes that may be necessary. But you should at least be asking this on the inside.

  • That critic?
  • That rude neighbor?
  • That argumentative in-law who has an opinion about everything?

What have they made lately?

Are they doing the work? Are they braving the abyss, facing the fear of creation, and making something? Are they enduring the years it takes to bridge the Taste-Talent Gap and finally be as good as they hope?

Or are they just dispensing feedback for the sake of being heard? Are they offering empty advice without having earned the right to share that advice? Are they a critic, not a creator?

If so, I dare you to kindly reply, “not necessary.”

It’s not necessary to say you didn’t like my book.

It’s not necessary to tell me what you think I should be doing differently.

It’s just not necessary.

I have resources for that, people whose opinions I trust and value, those I know have my best interests in mind.

These days, we live in an age where virtually anyone can share their opinion with anyone. And so, we tend to treat all opinions as equal. But they are not. In fact, some opinions should matter to you very little.

And when you hear someone voice one of those opinions, you can just say, “not necessary.”

Or even better: Ignore them entirely and just keep doing your work.

Want some help with this? Make sure you hit the ground running in 2018 by identifying 5 common goal-setting mistakes in this free live training.

What have you made lately? Let me know in the comments, and please share this with a friend who’s doing the work.

13 thoughts on “You Can Be a Critic or a Creator (But You Have to Choose One)

  1. This is such a thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing it and giving me a new perspective on what it means to give/accept criticism. I’m still in the ‘making’ stage myself, but I’m slowly pushing myself more and more to have to the guts to actually put it out there instead of constantly keeping it to myself.

  2. Thank you! I kept fighting this challenge because all I ever seemed to make was food… now I am compiling a cookbook…kept it simple with holiday yummies for Christmas… only 4 recipes to go….. of course I have 8 years of consistent newsletters to draw from… still gotta make the treats and take photos….

  3. Spent the semester working with young undergrads teaching visual communication and visual literacy. One of the key elements of the class was learning to give and gracefully receive criticism of their creative work face to face. We used P>Q>S; Praise — even down to done work is good work; Questions — did the work do what it was suppose to or leave you with questions; and Specific Suggestions for improvement. The recipient listens with an open-mind and takes what suggestions he/she likes and disregards the rest. It’s been an interesting journey watching them find their voices and increase their design confidence through the feedback process.

  4. I’ve always struggled with the notion of being perfect, or agreed with, in lieu of just telling my truth. As if there were some hierarchical value to be courted.

    There isn’t.

    This is my crucible for the new year.

  5. I like to make, write or do something creative every day. Some busy days, this just means I stare blankly into the pantry and try to make a miracle out of a few cans until I go shopping. Some days I get to spent hours at a sewing machine or computer. I think of it as exercising my creativity muscles every day, so I’ll always be *in shape*. Every day will get better.

  6. I listened to your audiobook “Real Artists Don’t Starve” somewhere around 5 times and it helped me realize that I should be a Cartoonist. I am trying to make a cartoon everyday (Instagram @wixxelbrand). I found your interview with Chase Jarvis and have really appreciated your contribution to my pursuit in art. Loved this article!

  7. What have I made? This one stumps me. I think of what have I made in terms of material things. I’ve made coffee, I will make dinner, last week I made my granddaughter a knitted mermaid blanket. But I think I need to broaden my understanding of what I have made.

    For example, this morning I made an appointment to speak with someone who could end up a client. If he doesn’t, I made an effort towards success. I wrote a few comments to you that made a difference in my way of thinking. I’d like to think someone will read them, and they will have made a difference to them as well. I made progress in catching up on your lessons. And hey, it’s still early in the day. I will have made much more progress on other things before the day is up.

    The thing is, I don’t think it’s what you have made that’s important. It’s how you see what you have made. Do you look back and critique your accomplishments or lack thereof, or do you celebrate them, even the baby steps? After all, every wobbling unsure step leads to more efficient walking and eventually to all-out sprinting with hurdles easy jumped along the way.

    My mom doesn’t get it. She’s that critique. I’ve never really thought about it in this way before, but the baby step analogy is a good one for our relationship. She’s always encouraged me on certain things. And she’s always discouraged me on the same things. She my biggest supporter as a writer, and at the same time my biggest hurdle. It’s like I’m taking my first step and she cheers but then swoops me up and says your not ready before I even have a chance to show her I am. Her words, “you’re a writer Jeanna, but you don’t have the drive to make money at it.”

    Well, I’ve found a way to be a writer and make money. She still doesn’t get it. She thinks I just play on the computer all day. Unfortunately, her notion of what I do and how I do it has put a huge gap in our relationship. I no longer share with her. That assessment in lesson 1, yep I failed that part. But it’s okay because that one failure is the consequences of saying to her, “It’s not necessary.” It sure beats the consequence of never learning to run. We will reconnect. We love each other too much not to, but right now “it’s just not necessary.”

  8. I can’t lower myself to the same level as the critic. Why start an argument? It really doesn’t help me any and, in many cases, that kind of response gives justification to the critic.

  9. Making parts for my latest Science Fiction Machine entitled “The Hexadecimal Sphere (C)”. This art work has been 15 years in the concept and development phase waiting for the computer tech to fit in side it. Now that I can get a small but powerful PC to fit, the project is now being built. Running Linux, it is an alien space probe like machine creature sent out to monitor for signals from ETs. This one was captured because it became stuck in a pool of liquid metal that froze over night trapping the machine so it it was easy to capture. You can find more at Science Fiction Machines dot com 😀 BTW, thanks Jeff for writing some great books and blog articles, you have been an enormous help already. P.S. there is much more art to come too, I have loads of designs that I have just not made, but after reading The Art Of Work and Real Artists Don’t Stave I have been re-inspired to get going! …again, my thanks indeed.

  10. Good point, actually. I never understood people who just criticised others. If it’s not constructive criticism, what’s the purpose of it? It’s pointless and doesn’t build any good.

  11. It is so easy to criticize and costs nothing. I have dear friends who fear sharing their work because of the harsh words they have heard as a young creator. I love your idea of doing your work in public. I was floored when a man on the plane asked if I was an artist because I was drawing in a sketchbook. I answered, “Not professionally.” And giggled to myself. 🙂

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