So yesterday I shared some kind comments about my story from a coworker. Today yet another coworker gave me some really positive feedback I was grateful to receive. And then I had an email from my brother, Matt. Have I told you about Matt? He’s four years older than me, and two years younger than our eldest brother, Jim. Both are very intelligent and creative, as well as being thoughtful and kind. Both have several more degrees than I do (Matt is a PhD). Matt has a clever way with words. And he’s very good at providing constructive criticism. Just ask my daughter. He offered to give her resume advice and prompted it by telling her he’d be brutally honest, if she wanted. She did and he was. But his advice was spot on and was helpful to her in ways others hadn’t provided.
Here’s Matt’s reply to the email I sent him with a link to my story:
What a great story!
In art school, when the teacher strides over to someone’s canvas and says “No, no , no!” and grabs the brush, the student usually feels picked on, when they should feel fortunate. The teacher doesn’t like their work less than everyone else’s, but more. That’s why he’s so upset about the flaws that he sees: they are messing up a promising piece of work.
That’s how I feel about your story. There are a lot of great things going on here. And some where I want to grab the brush out of your hand and say, “No, no, no!”
Receiving a critique like that may not be your cup of tea (no pun intended). What I would, however, very much like to do is to take your story, edit it in Word using track changes, and send it back to you. What can be very helpful is to read the edited version as a clean document, then open it up and see where the changes were made to your original. Most writers find this much more direct and helpful than a bunch of generalized “You should”s.
However, I won’t lift a finger to do that unless you want me to and send me a copy in word.
Either way, you should be very proud of yourself by taking this very courageous step. Brava!
So of course I said yes, yes, yes. While I love how my story came together free flowing, I know it’s technically likely got a lot of room for improvement. I’m okay with that, but I do want to learn, I don’t know what I don’t know, and having his critique could help me direct my learning, so to speak. That is, I don’t know if I should try to learn a bit about writing dialogue or how to structure or a story or any number of other literary things. See, I don’t even have the vocabulary so I just have to call them “literary things.”
In discussing this with my husband I realized there are two kinds of supporters we need when we’re starting something new. First, we need cheerleaders (thank you Caroline S. for your pom poms on Facebook – you made me smile from ear to ear). That is, we need people who push us onward with words of encouragement. I picture people standing along the route of a bicycle race shouting to the riders, encouraging them to the finish line. They aren’t shouting to the rider to watch his footing or lean forward more, etc. They’re urging him onward and getting those endorphins flowing, which the rider needs to finish the race.
Then we also need those who will give us criticism that may be hard to hear, but if we’re willing, is useful. I might call these the commentators. Like in sports, they’re observing the action and offering their critique from a unique vantage point. These are generally people who’s opinions we value less for their relationship to us and more for the credibility they bring to the table. My brother Matt has a PhD in English. He’s done a lot of writing. And in his career he’s responsible for several creative elements coming together. I look forward to his technical comments on my story.
But…and this is a big but…I also believe we have to listen to our inner commentator. There may be advice we’re given by someone far more experienced in something than ourselves. And we should listen to it. But we should also weigh it to see if it rings true for us. And so advice we’re given we may sometimes take and sometimes we may set it aside to reflect on, but still carry on in a way that seems contrary but works for us.
For those reading this who may be wondering which category I’d put you in; cheerleader or commentator, just know there are also some who I believe play both roles. My husband is one of those. Sometimes he’s there with a cup of tea, helping me make the time to write, and encouraging me onwards. Other times he’s offering advice on something I’ve written or my process, and offering feedback I find useful.
So thank you once again to each of you. Whether you see yourself as a cheerleader a commentator or both, know that I am grateful for the role or roles you’re playing.
Until next time…