Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sharing Your Work Won’t Kill You

This article

made me think of the importance of sharing your work with others to get that all important feedback. When I teach classes and work with writers individually, I get a lot of questions about sharing work—when to do it, how to do it, why do it. Here are some tips to help you along. A lot of this relates to writers, but it can apply to other forms of expression as well.

1. Give your work to someone you know is going to treat it with respect (meaning not trample on your confidence) and who is not going to give you frivolous comments. If you've written something about a family incident that really happened, you don't want to hear from your mother that "that's not how it happened."

2. Be clear about what you want to hear back. If you do give the family story to your mother, tell her you're not interested in whether you captured it the way it really happened, but in the emotion it evokes, or whether it’s confusing, or if you spelled everything right, or whatever. Be specific. I've given my work to people with the following instructions: My confidence is shaken; even if you this stinks, just tell me you love it.

3. What do you ask for? When I teach, I don't allow people to use phrases like: it was good; it was bad; I liked it; I didn't like it. As the writer, how can you possibly use such feedback to develop your work. And that’s what we're talking about here—developing your work, pulling out the themes and emotions that you want to strengthen, dampening down the ones you don't want to highlight, choosing a direction for a character or story. Feedback is a valuable tool in helping you make these decisions.

I have one or two readers with whom I share my work. I ask them to tell me what the story makes them think about, what memories and emotions it evokes for them. If I am stuck on something in the story, I ask them—where could I go with this?—and see what they have to say. I used to dread sharing my work—I used to come close to having a heart attack at the thought of someone reading my stuff. How stupid, right? I mean, isn't that the point of writing, to have someone read it?

4. Listen to the feedback. The most common thing I see—and it kind of irks me a bit—is writers ask for feedback, beg for it sometimes, and then when you give it, they start arguing with you right off the bat. And I'm pretty nice about how I give feedback. It's not easy, but take your ego off and just listen to what people have to say. You'll learn something about your work if you can just make yourself listen. And especially if you asked someone to read your stuff, don't get defensive with them. If you start arguing with them as soon as they open their mouth, chances are they won't read your stuff next time.

5. Thank the person who took the time to read your work and give you feedback.

Definitely find ways to share your work. You'll get new ideas, and you'll probably get inspired. If you're scared, make this the one thing you do today that scares you.

Come on. Do it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Resistance Equals Persistence

Resistance equals persistence. I came across this phrase in "The Secret"—that giant blockbuster book about the Law of Attraction. There’s some good advice in there about practical ways to change your attitude. This is one of the pearls I took away from that book.

When faced with something I don't want to do, whether at work, at home or in my creative life, I've learned that the worst thing I can do is resist it, ignore it, avoid it. First of all, whatever that thing is, no matter how long I resist doing it, it's still there waiting for me. Secondly, the longer I avoid it, the larger it looms in my imagination, growing bigger and meaner and worse than it really is. It's like anticipating a doctor's appointment or a dentist visit. You spend all that time building it up in your mind, getting all anxious about it, and it turns out to be a five minute non-event. All that energy, wasted.

So, the more you resist the thing you don't want to do, the longer it persists.

The remedy: Jump in with both feet and do it. I'm coming out of a situation where I had to do a lot of things that were challenging for me and not necessarily "my thing," not how I would prefer to spend my time and not always very rewarding in the end. But each time a new challenge came up, I would say to myself "resistance equals persistence" and take some action toward resolving the problem or accomplishing the task at hand. And it worked. I may not have enjoyed the actual task any more, but I felt better about it—it wasn't weighing on my mind and shredding my nerves. I didn't waste as much energy worrying about everything as I would have if I had avoided every problem I didn’t want to deal with. It's best to just rip the Band-Aid off in one shot and get it over with.

Since leaving this particular situation, someone said to me that what she appreciated about me was that no matter what I was handed, I jumped in with both feet and just did it.

Whatever it is you're avoiding, just do it. Come on. Do it.