During my creative writing classes in college, many of my classmates dreaded the workshops. These workshops required us to send each other a copy of our work, then, the following week, we’d tear each other apart. We used to spend hours spotting mixed metaphors, grammatical errors, and lack of characterization. One of my professors would even bring in two established authors to help facilitate in the literary carnage. Many people cried.
I, on the other hand, looked forward to these workshops. I believe that this was the activity that gave me the best preparation for web working. Like those workshops, online freelance work tends to be a public affair. Your blog posts, design work, marketing efforts, and most of your business output is done where the public can see them. In a way, you’re putting your work in front of a firing squad.
Believe it or not, this is a great thing.
Criticism is the best way to see the flaws you’ve overlooked in your work, especially when you’re not expecting it (through an email from a random site visitor, for example). It’s very easy to overlook your own mistakes since your mind is so familiar with what you’re doing. But, as web workers, the platform we use for our work isn’t just in our minds – it’s on the computer screen. Sometimes, there’s a discrepancy between what we’re trying to do and what we actually did.
This is why many people – writers, programmers, and designers – sometimes step away from their computer after working for several hours. It’s easier to spot errors when you distance yourself from the work you’re doing and you return later with a fresh perspective. And what could be fresher than someone else’s opinion? Especially the opinion of someone who is unfamiliar with the details of your work.
This is where your personal firing squad comes in. They’re the ones who can tell you what you actually did and what you failed to do. It’s better to get their opinion and correct your flaws before the client or the general public sees your work.
Another important thing you’d learn from critics and naysayers is the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. If you listen to every single troll out there who yells “FAIL!” at you, then you’re accepting the impossible task of trying to please everybody. When people trash you enough, in time you’ll know who’s giving helpful advice and who just loves kicking you when you’re down.
If you’re looking for your own constructive firing squad, here are some people you can approach: mentors, respected leaders in your field, and your colleagues. If it doesn’t violate any contracts or policies, show them your work before you put the final version out there. It’s like having a personal group of beta testers.
You can also request for a critique from your clients through a client satisfaction survey when you’ve sent in your final work. But by the time they receive it, hopefully your beta testers have helped you weed out the problems.
I’ve also noticed that the more workshops I participated in, and the more negative comments I received from my work, I gradually became immune to the pain of rejection. You think this blog post sucks? Okay. Please let me know why.
One of the editors I worked with told me that other writers he’s handled would have fits if he changed something as simple as a comma. He was surprised that I was open to hearing him out. What was it that made me open? I found out that the more criticism I received, the more I knew I could handle it. Sure, I don’t have to listen to everything he says, but most of the time, his points are valid and essential.
By regularly exposing yourself to critics, you start taking criticism as a chance to improve yourself rather than something to hide from. What was once a painful experience becomes a useful one. The ability to do this is one significant step to making your work better.
How do you hear about criticism of your work? How do you react to your critics?
Note: This post is the first part in a 3-part series on better web working. Please stay tuned this week for parts 2 and 3.