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B&N Week 95: Become A Better Creator–Seeking Feedback

| October 16, 2012

It’s yet another Tuesday! We’ve got rain and cloudy skies, we’ve got cool weather and some wind, we’ve got shortening days and turning leaves. It’s great, and I’m glad to get to share it with you.

This week, we’re still talking about being a better creator. This week, though, it’s all about feedback. Actually, it’s about seeking out feedback, and what to do with it when you have it. Ready? Let’s go!

Seeking out honest feedback is something that a mature creator does. (A mature creator? I’m mature!) Hm. I’d really call that debatable. Let me give the reasons why.

I’ve been to forums where creators don’t really want honest feedback. They want a pat on the head or on the back and to be told that their creation is the bestest ever. They want an ego stroke, and if they get anything besides what they’re looking for, then they flare up and show their true colors. These creators aren’t mature. They still have a lot of learning and a lot of growing to do before they’re ready for working with others.

These creators are easy to spot: they post work, and when they get responses that laud their efforts, all they say is thanks. What they should be doing instead is saying that they appreciate the comments, but to point out the flaws for how they can get better. These are the creators that are going to improve, and who will be able to take criticism well.

Why is feedback important? Well, it isn’t. (I don’t understand.) Feedback isn’t important unless a few criteria are met. The first is that it is honest. This is the most important criterion. Without it, nothing else matters. The next is that it identifies the problems and then either offers ways to fix them, or directs the creator in the direction where they can learn to fix them. The next criterion is that it comes from someone who is either a peer who is at your skill level, or above it. The last criterion is that it is actionable. Without all of that, “feedback” is useless, and useless is unimportant. (Ah! Got it.)

Everyone says that going to your friends and family to get their reactions to your creation. I’ve said it several times, myself. No, I’m not changing my stance about that.

Like I said, honest feedback is important. Without it, you won’t go far. That’s important to understand. Without honest feedback, your growth is going to be a long, slow process.

As a creator, you need gather to you a circle of friends that you trust. If at all possible, you should be the weakest link of your group. (That sounds downright stupid, Steven.) I know it sounds counterintuitive, but follow my reasoning.

If you’re joining a group, and you’re there to learn, you’re not going to learn all that much if you’re the top or the “leader” of the pack. If you’re the strongest member of the bunch, from whom are you supposed to learn? If you’re the weakest link, as long as you’re actively trying to get better, you should be learning a lot in a little bit of time. This cuts your time down considerably.

The thing about being the weakest link is something of a struggle, though. The reason being is that there’s the possibility that they will look down on you. That can be a challenge to overcome. I know the argument that if they’re really your friends, then they won’t look down on you. However, take a look at your personal relationships. If you have a group of mutual friends, there’s a hierarchy that forms. Someone is always the leader, and the leader always gets treated differently. Then there are those that are just below the leader, and so on. Everyone gets treated according to their place in the hierarchy. It happens in every group. Putting yourself in that place can be precarious. It could be really tough to escape from.

Bad advice? Maybe. The question is this, though: would it be worth it? That’s a question only you can answer.

So, you post some work, and you open yourself to honest feedback. And you get it, in spades. What are you supposed to do with it?

The first thing is to be gracious, and sometimes that can be damned difficult. If someone is aggressive in their critique of your work, thank them, and then see if they’re right. That’s the key. Seeing if they’re right. If they are, see if you can use their critique to improve your craft. If they aren’t, then see why they aren’t right. And don’t use the “because they’re a dick/bitch” filter, either. That isn’t going to get you where you want to be. You have to get past that so that you can actually see what’s going on with your work by using someone else’s eyes. That way leads to growth.

Remember, you’re asking for someone else’s perceptions. Do o they think your work sucks? So what! Did they say why? Did they say how it could be made better, or lead the way to it? That’s the important part. If all they said was that it sucked, then forget it and move on. If they at least said why, then you have to take ownership of that. See if what they’re saying is true, and then work on fixing it.

Dealing with someone else’s negative perceptions is never easy. Seeing the flaws in our work is never an awesome thing to be pointed out, not when you’re on the inside looking out. Sucks, right? I know. However, the great thing about it is that those are the perceptions you need in order to grow. Seeking out feedback helps you to grow in two ways.

The first way is simple: it’s a quantitative, quantifiable growth in skill in whatever your bailiwick is. Good art becomes better art; good writing becomes better writing. You can see your growth almost as a chart. Just as long as you are conscious of not continuing to make the same mistakes, you’re growing. Different mistakes are good. Just take it a step at a time.

The second way is subtler. It’s a growth in character, because it is teaching you how to deal with adversity. How you deal with the adversity of someone telling you how they perceive your work and how to make it better will tell you a lot not just about your work, but also about yourself. In some ways, this is more important than your growth in skill. Dealing with that adversity in a professional manner will get you more jobs. That’s important, folks. We’re all here to find work, and showing that you can remain professional in the face of adversity will go a long way to establishing you as someone to work with.

Want to be a better creator? There are a few steps: seek honest feedback, gather a circle of friends that you trust to give their honest opinion that will help raise your game, and react professionally when you get that feedback.

Where can you post to get feedback? For writers, there are The Proving Grounds, as well as the ComixTribe forums and the Digital Webbing Writer’s Showcase. With The Proving Grounds, your work is guaranteed to be commented on, good, bad, or indifferent. No punches are pulled, and no stone is left unturned with two editors looking over it. There is a standing rule at the CT forums about posting a script: make notes on other scripts first, and then you can post your own. For Digital Webbing, there is no guarantee that your work will be commented on in any meaningful, qualitative way.

When it comes to art, we have the infrequent Draw Over here, as well as Breaking the Page. However, everyone loves art, and there are places such as Digital Webbing and Penciljack where you can get crits of art. (Digital Webbing is something of a creator crit-site, having places for each stage of comic creation. However, not everyone posts on every piece of work that it put up.) There is also an art section here at the CT forum.

To be honest, you could probably trip over places to post work for feedback. Web searches are not hard. However, it is very important that you seek it out. Honest feedback is a very fast way to get better.

And that’s all I have for this week. Homework: submit! Find a place where you feel comfy, and submit. Just remember to read any and all relevant rules, and follow them before doing so.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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