Feedback is a natural thing to crave, especially as a creative.
See, creating is an inherently dicey occupation.
Not that “dicey” should discourage you from creating; far from it. I think dicey-ness adds a nice spice to life, actually. Zip-lining, paragliding, introducing your boyfriend to your inebriate relatives … these are great ways to get that adrenaline pumping, to really reach outside your comfort zone.
Believe me, I know.
But creating is honestly more terrifying than any of the above, and when we’re faced with the prospect of putting a little piece of our souls out into the world, it’s natural to want feedback.
And where do we go first? To our peers.
But honestly, I think that’s a big mistake.
It’s natural to go to your peers for feedback. You’re comfortable with them, and they possess a level of knowledge equivalent to your own. I can feel intimidating to seek feedback from those with greater expertise, just as it feels kind of pointless to ask for critiques from those who haven’t yet hit your echelon.
Like Goldilocks, you want that juuuuuuuust right feedback, and peers seem to offer that. They like us; we feel camaraderie; and on some level, we know they’ll be gentle. So they’re a perfect choice, right?
Creative peers – just like friends and family – usually aren’t the best place to go for feedback, for one simple reason:
They don’t want your content.
That’s not always the case, of course. Sometimes my entrepreneur buddies and I swap courses or ebooks or other content, and it can be illuminating. Or sometimes we go over it for one another to lend advice or help polish each other’s work. But that’s not the same as feedback on whether or not your content is useful, and here’s why:
Your peers have almost certainly outgrown it.
(Just like I’ve now outgrown the colon-followed-by-intense-italicized-statement model, you’ll be delighted to know.)
When you ask for feedback from your peers, they usually tell you “Oh, wow, this is neat! I especially like [whatever] and you might try tweaking [whatever] in chapter [whatever]. But other than that, I love it!”
This feels nice. I like to hear this. And I won’t lie, I seek it out.
But it’s not honestly that useful, because those people aren’t trying to learn from you. They’re not even trying as hard as they would be, say, if you were in a writer’s group together and both trying to get your novels published.
Learn the difference between a pat on the back and real feedback, and you’ll be more successful.
Simple: True feedback comes from above or below.
I know, that doesn’t make the Goldilocks in you feel happy. But it’s true, because your betters (for lack of a nicer term) can spot the holes in your work much more quickly than your peers, if the latter even could at all.
And your inferiors (again, not trying to insult anyone) can ask you the questions you really need to know:
Your peers and superiors aren’t going to ask these questions because for the most part, they know the answers. Again, while you might work in trade or offer critiques to peers, they’re not going to give you the real help you would need, because they’re not the ones to buy your books or your courses, subscribe to your email list or stalk your Instagram account.
If you really want to improve, stop instinctively looking for comfort and start looking for real, public, potentially humiliating criticism.
This is the topic of my book, Get the Hell Over It: How to Let Go of Fear and Realize Your Creative Dream, if you’re curious.)
Okay, so now you know your peers just aren’t doing you that much good when it comes to improving. Again, I consider the writer’s group an exception, so don’t take umbrage there. But for all other creative pursuits, here’s a better way.
(If you happen to be a writer and want more tips about how to make a nonfiction or fiction writing career happen, go ahead and click on that pretty image below for lots of great resources to get started!)
If you truly seek useful feedback, start asking the people who already follow you. That might mean your email list, your social media accounts or your readers. It could mean the people who visit your Etsy shop or those who subscribe to your YouTube channel. Whatever the case, you need to reach out to the people who are already looking to you for support.
Try taking surveys, asking what they’d like to learn about. Or giving them free content in exchange for a critique. Or possibly asking them reverse versions of the above questions they might ask you. To wit:
It’s also useful to reach out to people who are doing what you admire and want to do. This works very well, if the person is inclined to help, and very not-well if they aren’t. You really can’t know ahead of time, so don’t be a weenie; just ask.
And sometimes you can’t get useful feedback, plain and simple. In that case, you’d do well to work on improving without it, which actually is possible.
Jeff Goins is one of the most successful self-made writing dudes today. He’s a total mover and shaker, and to the novice, his success might seem totally unattainable.
But his story is simple: After years and years of waiting to be “chosen” by agents, publishers, readers … he finally just chose himself. Basically, he was like, “Eh, they’re not making it happen, so I guess I will.”
He started a blog. He wrote every day. He told people about it. He worked, and he worked in public. He made a platform from which he could reliably seek thoughtful criticism who really wanted to hear what he had to say.
And he learned that there is a huge difference between successful writers and unsuccessful ones.
Perhaps you’re not a writer, but a creative of another sort, and that’s okay. Either way, the gist is the same. You have to take yourself seriously by first building your platform, then asking for advice from people who are qualified to give it.
And for reasons that I’ve already dead-horse-beaten, that’s usually not your peers.
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