A few years ago I took a useless college creative writing class.
The class was useless because it was structureless, without challenge and the teacher only showed up when she felt like it.
But the $800 I paid for the class was worth it for one golden nugget of wisdom I have used countless times since.
We had a few writing assignments throughout the semester that were due whenever we felt like it. When enough of the class managed to show up with completed work, we formed a circle and performed critiques.
The teacher had one rule: when it was your turn to receive feedback, don’t say a thing.
This blew my mind.
I have been in and out critique groups for about fifteen years now and the standard ritual has been to dig your fingernails into your leg as people share their opinions of your work, tell you how bad it is and how much more work you are in for. After that, my job was to get on the explaination train, or the defense train. After the defense or explaination, the critique partners would generally smooth things over by taking back what they said or they would compliment me until daisies and rainbows shot out of my ears.
Now, whenever I recieve criticism, I say nothing, I don’t respond. I give my mind time to work on the information.
It has made all the difference.
I have found that even if someone is throwing blows at a single chapter without reference to the future chapters, they are telling me what they expect to get. They are telling me what kind of story they think it is. They are letting me know when I’m not pulling it off.
By refusing to explain, I let them have their say and there are no “take backs” or “ear flowers.” They then feel safe to critique with honesty in the future.
It’s a win-win.
Not saying anything and allowing time for the criticism to find purchase and get processed is essential to the maturation of any creative work. We are all little rebels. If someone suggests something, we dig our feet in and figure out how to get the control back. By refusing to do that you gain humility and hopefully a much better product.
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