The title of this particular blog post might seem obvious, but it’s something I think a lot of people struggle with. The fear of making something bad is crippling at times and it plagues every creative on Earth. I’ve been writing things for as long as I can remember (what did I have for breakfast again?) and this struggle never gets easier. I still look at each piece of work with the same fear and dread that I had when I first started out.
No matter what you work on, it’s always very personal. You pour your heart, soul, and passion into the things you create. Even if what you’re making is for a client, or part of a larger role within a company, you still form a personal bond with the creative work you produce. You grow a connection with the work and you care for it like you would anything else you have a personal connection to. You want to protect it and keep it safe, but you also know that at some point someone is going to have to experience it.
Most professionals learn to distance themselves from this feeling of connection. They learn, usually through trial and error, to disconnect from the things they create and to not be precious or protective. In most creative industries work has to be changed and edited based on the needs of the larger project. In games this happens constantly, and if you were precious about all the work you created, you would go insane really quickly. I have seen people break to this kind of pressure in the industry and it’s not pretty. It’s one of the most important lessons I think people should learn.
Despite this mental disconnection I try and adopt with my work, I still fear if it’s actually any good. I still worry about if people will enjoy it or like it. Hell, I just hope most of the time they don’t turn to me and tell me it’s terrible. I guess I’m here to tell you that the fear never leaves you, but that’s okay. The fear is good. It keeps you sharp and it keeps you critically thinking about your own work. What I wanted to talk about though, is how you shouldn’t be afraid of making something other people think is bad.
I have worked on things creatively that have been praised and others that have been heavily criticized. I have read comments as flattering as, “Felt and read like Robert Heinlein.” all the way to, “The narrative is god awful.”. Both kinds are important for a writer in order to grow and improve. A lot of the times what you are asked to write might not be what you want to write, but we all answer to someone and we have to do what we’re told sometimes. When I’m not making the decisions I try and write what is asked of me to the best of my ability, but if they want it to be a certain way I have to meet that requirement.
Working on something that you feel is bad is tough. It wears you down and makes you doubt yourself (more than normal). Sometimes it’s hard to look past the specific piece of work and see the larger picture, but its important to try and do. I find it a lot easier to stomach my work being altered if I trust the opinion of the person asking me to change it. Sure, I might not really agree with what they’re saying, but I trust that they are looking at the bigger picture and that is what’s influencing their decision. It doesn’t always play out like that, sometimes a bad call is made or a personal opinion gets in the way of the work, but it happens so you have to learn to deal with it.
When we are talking personal work; your novel, your screenplay, your video game, your comic, or anything else you’re creating, I believe that what you think matters most. If there is no client and you’re creating something simply because you want to share it with others, then I think that it’s healthy to be confident in your work. If you write something and you really like it, that’s the best scenario here. You’ve spent the time to create something and you’re happy with the end result. That’s a fantastic feeling and it’s part of what drives me to write.
If other people don’t like what you created, however, it’s easy to get swept up in the negativity. I’ve fallen down the comments rabbit-hole, where you just keep reading and reading and oh my god the horror! The nasty things people will say about other people’s creative work is truly incredible. There’s no escaping it. If you’re putting something out into the public domain to be experienced and consumed by others, be prepared for people not to like it. The best of the best have their work criticized by people. It comes with the territory of expressing yourself through creative media. All you can really do is learn to roll with it.
It’s hard not to take it personally because you’re going to put a lot of your personality into your work. I’m not saying you should try and not be affected by other people’s opinions. A lot of them will offer really good advice on how to improve your craft, where your weaknesses are, and how you can evolve your abilities. Criticism is great and I actually love getting constructive criticism. If someone has taken the time to read my work, analyse it, and feed back to me with their thoughts then I am eager to listen and to learn about what they thought. It’s a habit worth getting into and one we all have to learn if we are to thrive in a creative industry. As for the people who just tell you your work is shit, well that’s their opinion and it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. It won’t stop you writing and it won’t stop you putting your work out there to be scrutinized. If it does do these things, you probably don’t want it bad enough.
The important lesson here is this: You create what you want to create and if you share it with other people be prepared for them to be affected by it for good or bad. We’re all different and we all like different things, so as long as you like what you create that’s all that matters. We all have good and bad days and we can’t create awesome work all the time. The important thing is you finish what you start, learn from it, and move on with those lessons absorbed.
Good luck and happy creating!