Writing a novel couldn’t be more different than writing an ad. Or so I thought.
In the last few weeks, I’ve realized just how much the lessons I’ve learned throughout my advertising career have been helping me in my latest pursuit of becoming a published author.
One of the most important things I took away from The Creative Circus (other than a strong portfolio and a realistic grasp of how ad agencies work) is the understanding that you are not your work. From first to eighth quarter, we had our work critiqued so often and by so many people, that we had to develop thick skin. There was no other choice.
We quickly learned that when someone said your idea sucked, they weren’t saying you sucked. And let’s face it, we’ve all had our fair share of sucky ideas. What really divided the students and how successful they were in class (and later in their careers) was how they handled that criticism.
When people look at your work, whether it’s a novel or a print ad, they are looking at it through the filter of their own life experience—which, of course, is different than your own. Because of that, they are likely to see certain elements in a different way than you may have intended.
While your first impulse might be to defend your work, it’s smart to stand back and listen. Unless you’re planning on being there to explain why your ad makes sense to consumers as they come across it, you should at least consider the feedback.
During one portfolio review, I saw a student react poorly to constructive criticism from Norm Grey, head of the Creative Circus at the time. The student told Norm why he was wrong, and why the ad he had presented was, in fact, THE BEST AD EVER. (It’ wasn’t. And last I heard, that student is no longer in advertising.)
What he should have done with the feedback was again, to listen. Note that I didn’t say he should have agreed to make all of the suggested changes. While it’s important to hear people out, there is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. If you take everyone’s suggestions, the work will end up becoming less cohesive and probably less effective. But it won’t hurt you or the work to hear them out.
This is true, even in a work environment. I’ve been in meetings where you couldn’t take everyone’s input even if you wanted to, because several of the comments contradicted each other. I’ve also been in situations where I didn’t agree with a request that came from a boss or client. In that case, it’s a good bit of advice to try it both ways. Show them what they asked for, and also show what you think the best solution is.
It’s easy to say no and shut down an idea that’s different from your vision. But sometimes, you might just be surprised and stumble upon something that’s even better than you originally imagined.
So it was with the thick skin of 17 years in the Advertising industry that I went into my Women’s Fiction Critique Group to have my second novel critiqued.