Crash Course for Creatives: How to Process Bad Reviews

A word or two about bad reviews and how to process them, specifically geared towards other creative people, whether we’ve met or not.

Take it or leave it: this is advice I’m trying to give to myself right now, first and foremost.
I am sensitive, and I get upset easily: SO not a bodhisattva.
But it’s all good.
It really is.

Here we go. Starting with a few facts.

The number of happy reviews I’ve seen in ten years of recording and touring and performing full time: countless hundreds.
The number of unhappy reviews I’ve seen: three.

You can guess which ones I’m trying to let go of. (wink)

We all do this. We all get bogged down in the things that make us sad or angry or disappointed. Especially when we see them in print. Especially when they are delivered in response to something we’re proud of.

I should take comfort in the fact that I have so many more good reviews than bad ones, right? But so often the internal susurrus kicks in and starts saying things like, “well, what if that’s because only two people had the balls to tell you what they thought when they didn’t like it? What then?”

In the wise words of Ben Deschamps, f*ck ’em.You cannot please everyone all the time. That’s not why we write songs or poems or plays or stories. We get creative because we *have* to, because it beats and burns inside us all the time, and it’s better for everyone if we let the Muse out to have her way.

You can’t please everybody.
You have to please yourself, especially where your own art and your own creative pursuits are concerned. I know how selfish that sounds, but it’s true.
It’s your choice whether you send your art-babies out into the world and let other people have a chance at reacting to them. It takes guts.

There’s a limit to letting your creativity run rampant. I recognize that. But it’s not like people on my level can afford to go into work- be that art studio, writing desk, or recording studio in this case, take every drug they can find, and spend tons of time and money just messing around for days to capture whatever comes out (see producer Bryan “Chas” Chandler’s opinion of the sessions for Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland). We really do make an effort to craft our words and our work, to make sure that it’s going to go out into the world and be palatable to someone besides ourselves. I know I do.

There’s a limit to everything.

Seriously though, if someone just hates your stuff and s/he’s honest enough to tell you so, that’s a blessing, especially if you consider that person a friend. It means s/he trusts you not to stop speaking to him/her/per when s/he speaks his/her mind.
But don’t let it ruin your day, certainly not your life.
No one, friend or foe, has that much power over you. Don’t give it to them.

I give myself this piece of advice right now, as well. I’m no Jedi Master where letting things go is concerned, quite the contrary.

I have had a reviewer, who was also a friend of mine, worry that I would stop speaking to him when he published a review that wasn’t glowing and effusive.
I straightened him out about that as soon as he told me so.

His review was full of constructive criticism, and he still gave me pretty high marks, even though he wasn’t in love with the work in question. I was thrilled. Besides, it wasn’t like he was calling me names, or saying that my work was an insult to the entire world of music. Far from it.

I will always be grateful for the honesty of those around me, where my work is concerned.
Even when it stings.
The trick is to take what’s useful from the stinging bits, and then, let the rest go.

Right now.

Just flush it down and forget about it, like so much poop.

It gets easier. Just like potty training.
Maybe the reason I’m not good at this yet is because I haven’t had to practice much.
Maybe the balance is about to shift because more people are hearing my music now than ever before.
Maybe a couple of people love everything I’ve done, except for one song.
So be it.

Some people will tell you that any press is good press.
This is true.
But you don’t have to let someone else’s reaction influence you, not if it isn’t useful intel.

Take the bad reviews and turn them around- see the blessings in disguise if you can. If so, nourish yourself with them, and move on to the next big thing as soon as possible.
If not, if it’s just a bunch of name-calling, and it’s clear that the reviewer was predisposed not to dig what you’re doing, delete that sh!t, and move on to the next big thing as soon as possible.

You have my permission. I’ve got your back.

We’re all mad here, and it’s okay.

Keep doing your thing. It’s all right.

Never, never give up.

Love you.