Chances are you’ve felt a little hesitant to share your creative work in progress with others at times. I know it can be intimidating to share your creative work with others, especially when you feel like it’s not quite “perfect” yet. Trust me, I’ve been there. But I’ve found that sharing my work early and often can be incredibly beneficial for my creative process.
I like to share my early sketches with notes (or doodles!) or create a presentation slide or two of my ideas with comments to show what I’m thinking at this point in the process. I’ll also include images of my inspirations on the slides to give people context about the direction I’m considering.
For example, you might say something like: “I’m working on a new design and I’m at the sketching stage. I would love your feedback on the layout and composition. What do you think is working well and what could be improved?” Or, if you’re feeling a little stuck, you might ask: “I’m feeling a little stuck. Do you have any ideas for how I could approach it differently?”
I’ll often seek out the perspective of someone who is knowledgeable about the topic I’m working on, as well as an outsider to the project: “I’m really excited about this project I’m working on, and I think it would be helpful to get some feedback from someone who isn’t as familiar with it. I’m in the early stages and I could use some fresh perspectives. Do you have time to take a look?”
You’d be surprised at how valuable the insights of someone who isn’t as familiar with the project can be.
And sometimes, I’ll even share on my Instagram story (just with close friends) to get a wider range of reactions. Just make sure to choose a few trusted individuals to share your work with, like a mentor, colleague, or friend.
Meeting people at in person events especially can help making the process less lonely and intimidating. I love attending meetups or just heading to a coffee shop with someone who shares my interests. It’s a great way to connect with others in your field and build relationships that can be super beneficial for your creative process (or just really love your memes about local restaurants).
Consider creating an opportunity to connect with a friend or acquaintance: “I’m really excited about this project I’m working on, and I’d love to get your thoughts on it. Can we meet up at our favorite coffee shop and chat about it? I’d also love to hear about your thoughts on the latest episode of that Game of Thrones dragon prequel”
While it’s convenient to share your work online or through email, there’s something special about meeting with someone in person. For one thing, you can get a better sense of their body language and how they are responding to your work. You can also hear the tone of their voice, which can make feedback sound more human, gentle, and connected.
The next best thing for would be to get on a phone call: “I’ve been struggling to come up with new ideas for my creative work, and I thought it might be helpful to brainstorm with someone. Could I send you the file and then hop on the phone with you sometime in the next day or two?”
This also gives you a chance to hear their voice and check in with the person and your own emotions.
You might also meet people who are interested in what you create at local events such as at a meetup. This gives you a chance to both share your work and help you to connect with others in your field and build relationships that can be super beneficial for your creative work.
Sharing the process can help you to connect with your audience and community. By sharing your work in progress, you can give people a peek into your creative process and build an audience of folks who are interested in your work. I find this especially powerful on social media or through email newsletters
It’s natural to feel a little nervous when sharing your work with others, especially if you’re a perfectionist or if you’re not used to seeking feedback. But it’s important to remember that everyone feels this way at some point, and that seeking feedback is a crucial part of the creative process.
Try reframing your thoughts and reminding yourself of the benefits of sharing your work. Remind yourself that you are seeking feedback to improve your work, not because you are not good enough. And if you’re still feeling nervous, I like to share my work with just one or two trusted individuals first, rather than with a larger group. This can help you to build up your confidence and get used to the idea of sharing your work.
So, how do you go about asking for feedback? It can help to be specific about what you’re looking for and to be clear about where you are in the process.
Be clear that it’s an early draft or a work in progress: “I’m really looking for thoughts on the color palette. Do you have any recommendations for colors that might work well with this concept?”
By being specific, you can help the person giving feedback to understand your goals and focus on the most important aspects of your work. This can help the person giving feedback to understand that you’re still refining your work and that you’re looking for guidance, rather than a final critique.
Another helpful thought is to practice self-compassion. Remember that you are doing your best, and that it’s okay to make mistakes or to have work that is not perfect. Rather than beating yourself up, try to focus on your progress and the things you have accomplished. I’m not expecting my first draft to be perfect. I’ll try to be kind to myself and remember that the editing process is part of the creative process.
It’s also okay to feel stuck or uninspired sometimes. Give yourself permission to take a break and come back to my work with fresh eyes later. You’re allowed to have off days when you’re not as productive as you’d like to be. It’s okay to take some time to recharge and come back to my work with renewed energy.
And if you do receive negative feedback, try to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as a personal attack. Make mistakes and experiment with different ideas. That’s how we learn and grow as someone who engages in creative work.
Be proud of yourself for trying, even if the work isn’t where you want it to be yet. Be patient with yourself and focus on making progress.
Finally, I love to let people know that you value their feedback and appreciate their help. By expressing your gratitude and making it clear that you’re open to hearing their thoughts, you can create a positive and supportive environment for receiving feedback.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.