When I was 7 years old, I brought all my stuffed animals from my bedroom and placed them on the living room couch downstairs. I lined them all up to make them an “audience”, hit the cassette tape player, and then serenaded them with classics like, “You Outta Know” and “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette.
I remember learning later that the lyrics weren’t what I remembered as a child, but that’s probably for the best.
You would think I grew out of my need to dance to the entire Jagged Little Pill album, but no, I find myself listening to it still at least once every few weeks. If I’m feeling less-than, I will let the song “Perfect” wash over me and get a good cry. If I’m feeling feisty and need to dance out some energy, I will put on “You Outta Know.”
As you can see, my love for Alanis has not changed, but what has changed is that I went from a kid singing her lyrics to stuffed animals in my living room, to learning to appreciate her as an artist and writer.
When I saw Alanis was going to be hosting a retreat at Omega Institute on creativity and writing, I jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t want to just listen to her songs, I wanted to know the how of her creative process.
The retreat was small (considering she is a celeb that sold 40 million records), made up of only about 100 people.
The whole weekend was amazing and full of inspiration. At one point, Alanis put on one of her tracks and we all danced around the room with our new room full of friends. Eventually Alanis and I found ourselves dancing with one another. I wondered what 7 year old me would have thought if one day I would be dancing with the singer and not just stuffed animals. Also, it took everything in me not to accidently slip that story in an anxious attempt to connect. Thankfully, we just continued to smile and dance.
But besides dancing with Alanis, there was one thing she said that stuck with me to this day. She said, “In art, there isn’t really room for criticism. You can give feedback, sure, but there shouldn’t be room for criticism in the art you decide to make.”
This hit me. Working with so many authors and being an author myself, we tend to get really harsh on ourselves. We read a bad review and think that defines who we are.
Here is the thing. There are going to be people who don’t enjoy the art or work we put into the world. That is okay. Don’t confuse criticism and feedback as the same. Feedback is good. It helps you grow. It makes you better. It can be uncomfortable to hear, but ultimately it can help you make your work better.
The worst thing we could do however, is never even put your art or book or project into the world in the first place. That is the true defeat in all of this, when we let the perfection or future thoughts of criticism deny us of our dreams.
Get feedback, sure, but ultimately create the art you want to create because you want to create it. Because it makes you feel good creating it. Let it out into the world. Your art is what makes you, you.
And while you’re at it, put on a little Alanis Morissette and dance your heart out.
And if in case you are wondering, “Not the Doctor” is a completely under-rated song on Jagged Little Pill and you should probably go listen to that song right now.