To create is to bring (something) into existence. A song, a story, a piece of furniture… an idea. It is a fundamental basic of human existence that we shall always be creating things – some more than others, but all of value.
Whilst we all create, most of us do not share. And this is very understandable. If you share something that you have created, you are vulnerable – you open yourself to criticism about something that took you time to create and that means something to you. You care what people think about what you have created (even if you pretend that you don’t), and because every person in the world is different, you cannot create something that everybody will love. Even worse, with the advent of the internet where people can express their opinions anonymously from behind screens, you are met by creative vampires which I would define in the following way:
Creative Vampire – An individual who makes deliberately offensive or provocative statements concerning the creative pursuits of others, largely with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.
Creative vampires are kind of like trolls, except that they choose to comment on the creative pursuits of others with the intention of making the creator feel bad. Sometimes they sensationalise their negativity, purely for recognition (or a reaction). It’s as if leaving negative feedback has become a creative pursuit in itself.
Of course we all have opinions, but knowing when to express an opinion is – in my opinion (!) – more valuable than having an opinion in the first place. Having an opinion is like having genitals. It’s fine to have them and it’s fine to be proud of them. But don’t whip them out and put them in my face.
I like to make things – but I don’t share most of them. I don’t want people to see them… or rather I don’t want people to judge them negatively. No matter how much positivity or praise you receive over something, it is the harsh opinions that you remember most clearly. When I published my first book, The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, I said that I would deem my book to be a success if it was to make a difference to one person, and I shared the book with a small group of blog readers whom I had never met (because I didn’t want a ‘real’ person to critique my work). The first response I received to the book said…
There are no words to convey what reading this personal story of yours has done to my soul. I cried, I laughed, I related, I got frustrated, I got inspired (finally quit my job yesterday)….
I went ahead and shared the book – but I probably wouldn’t have done if the first response had been negative. And this is what keeps us all in the dark with our creativity – the fear of people saying bad things about what we have made. Since publishing the book I try not to look at reviews, but for the sake of this post I know that on Amazon UK I have 34 five-star reviews and 1 three-star review. I don’t know what any of them say. What I do remember is the one-star review on Amazon US that asked me to never write another book again. Criticism is vital to improvement, but it is hard to read when it concerns something that you care about.
I also remember the comment from someone that used to work for my dad. He was always friendly to me until my dad had to ‘let him go’ recently. His response was to post publicly about how much he hated my book. I kind of wish he had said something in person if this is how he felt, just so I could ask why and think about how I might improve it.
Alastair Humphreys once wrote something very poignant in an email to me. He said, “If I can offer you one piece of advice it is neither to get excited by praise (5*), nor deflated by criticism (less than 5* for us sensitive authors)!” I agree strongly, but stated that the advice was impossible to follow. “I don’t follow it either, but I wish I did…” was his reply.
I don’t want people to hate my book because I care about it, but I accept that many people will hate it and many more will dislike it. I don’t want my book to only sell a handful of copies each week, but I accept that it will never be a bestseller. When I post a video on Youtube I want it to be well received, but I accept that I post on niche topics and I am not very talented at video editing. And it is the same of all creative pursuits in life. We must set our goals and try to gauge our level of success against our goals, blocking out the vampires.
Whenever I hear a song or read a post or consume anything creative, before responding I like to think ‘how will the creator feel when they read my response.’ It’s OK not to like something, but no matter if it is Justin Bieber on the world stage or an individual performing to their spouse, we are all human and we all hurt when people say mean things about us.
If you want to create something and share it with the world, go for it, because every person who has an opinion is just another person, like you or me. There will be haters and there will be hateful comments, but there will be people who love what you make – and you will enrich their lives for having the guts to share. If you learn how to not care about negative comments, please share the secret with the world and it will become a much happier place.
I don’t believe in vampires… but my gosh, their bite still hurts.