Week 08 Episode 05: Exercises - your worst review
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Hi again, welcome back. Parallel Worlds, that’s where we are.
Today you’ll need the sheet of paper you wrote on yesterday. The one where you wrote a list of ideal works and creators, and your ideal review. Keep that to hand, we’ll use it in a few minutes – after we have done our daily reflection, of course.
So, let’s get ready and warmed up. Keep that pen, or whatever you use, moving. Work in whatever medium you like best. You’ve got five minutes, starting … now!
Right, we’re here now, let’s move on.
Yesterday, I asked you to write an ideal review. Today I am going to ask you to flip the paper over, literally and metaphorically, to think negatively. Now, this is something that won’t be comfortable. But as practicing creative types, we’re all going to encounter harsh or unfair criticism at some point – and we’re going to be particularly affected by it if it hits any of the areas we feel particularly vulnerable in.
Before you start, I want to share an experience with you. I am an artist, I make work which is publicly performed. A few months ago I wrote an academic paper about a process I’d used to create some work. It was subject to peer review. One of the reviews was fine – pointed out a few bits I’d been lax with, some places for improvement – but the second review was the most horrible thing I’d ever heard about my work. The reviewer literally told me that I should never produce work again, they told me I needed to get some further education! Now, I’m a seasoned artist, I have a design background, I am used to showing work and having people really interrogate it, really ask tough questions. But this feedback stuck with me, there were parts which hit hit upon my insecurities, which tapped into something that made me feel like what I did was meaningless, stupid, facile, bad. I really believe in what I do, but like a lot of people who do this kind of work, I go through phases of feeling more and less confident with the choices I’ve made – and this person managed to take a relatively good streak, and make it bad. This one anonymous person and their pointed and egregious comments sent me into a spiral of self doubt for a couple of weeks.
So there are a few lessons I took from this. The first is that I never want to be a person who makes someone feel the way that person made me feel. I want to help people make their work better, not slap them down for trying. I want to facilitate and encourage creativity – and I’ve really thought about the way that I provide feedback to students and people I work with to reflect this.
The second is that it revealed some areas of my practice I feel wildly insecure about, that I need to work on. Part of the creative process is exposing yourself in some way, embracing a vulnerability, working with it, taking risks. But there are areas of my practice where I feel a bit too much like I’m winging it, where if someone probes too hard, or uses the right phrasing, they’ll unpick all the positive things I have in my work. Naming these things, looking at them written down on a piece of paper, and working on improving them – or your attitude towards them – will help your work become stronger.
So, let’s get on with this task. I’d like you to write the worst possible review of your work, from someone who really doesn’t like what you do, doesn’t like your attitude, your methods, your approach. What do they dislike about it? What might the nastiest critic say about what you do? This is the absolute opposite of what we were doing yesterday.
Let’s get going. Ten minutes – be harsh, mean, nasty. Go!
Welcome back, I hope you’re feeling OK after ripping yourself to pieces. Remember that whatever that nasty reviewer wrote on this side of the paper, there’s a better review, which by far outweighs it, on the other side. But this list will be useful. Right here, this review – these are the holes you can work on patching, so that nobody can say the things you’ve written down.
Now, I want you to do something else. This pair of reviews can act as a sort of guide for your practice. You’ve got the things you feel bad about right now on one side, the things you know you need to work on, and the ideal, the perfect version of your work on the other. There are a load of details on that side which can help you frame the way that people encounter your work for the first time, strategies to keep them engaged, the types of thoughts you want them to continue having when they leave whatever space they see your work in.
You have produced something powerful here. Something which can help you make your work more what you want it to be. I want you to refer back to this piece of paper.
I want you to set an alarm. You’re probably listening to this on a phone, or a computer. You’ve probably got a calendar or reminders app there too. I want you to set an alarm for three months time, three months from this day, to remind you to look at this piece of paper again. To read through, to think about what you’ve done to get you away from the worst review, and towards the ideal one.
Pause the podcast now, and set your alarm.
Have you done it? OK, now I want you to set another alarm, for six months’ time, and one more for one years’ time. The more you think about where you want to get to, the easier it will be to get there.
You can hide this piece of paper away somewhere that nobody will find. You can put it in the back pages of the most boring book you own, you can fold it up and put it at the bottom of those shoes you never wear, you can hide it however you like, or you can pin it to your wall, take a photo on your phone – wherever you want to do keep it, but just make sure you can refer back to it later.
But know this: some day, the things you wrote in your worst review will become irrelevant, they’ll seem silly, you’ll have moved on. You might find this paper in ten years and laugh at the worries you had right now. But someday, parts of your best review will come true. You’re the one who has to work towards getting there. One day, someone else will put you on their list of great and inspiring work. It’s your job to make the work, and to help them find it.
OK, I will be back soon with more. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and those you care about.
- Continuous writing, in reflection on your life, thoughts, and feelings at the moment
- Write a list of great works, artists, authors, creators, that you’re inspired by, from any discipline (not just your own). Think about what foreknowledge you need to have about the context of the work for it to make sense.
- Write the worst possible review of your work. What are you unsure about? What are you insecure about? What is the worst thing someone could say about your work? 10 minutes
- Set a reminder to review your best-possible review and your worst-possible review in 3, 6, and 12 months’ time, to reflect on how your work is progressing (on your phone, calendar, whatever you use!).