Every Childlike Author needs a Playground.

Snow Story Storm, Procrastination, and Criticism as Natural Selection

 

Two things, utterly unrelated.

The first is this fantastic story written in a wonderfully creative medium, and beautifully executed by the author, Shelley Jackson. You can view it here: SNOW A story in progress, weather permitting. I admit that I wish it had been my idea—it’s cool and clever and serene all at once. I will also admit—reluctantly—that the word “underpants,” is what drew my attention to it.

Image Courtesy of snowshelleyjackson

Yup. This is one of the most interesting and intriguing photos I have ever seen.

The second is this well-written article about Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators. It’s spot on. Well, it’s spot on for me, that is. I was one of those kids who made easy grades in my coursework (both in high school and at university), even though most of my coursework was mathematical and scientific rather than literary. But just like the article suggests, I’m also an incredibly bad person when it comes to procrastinating, and will let my projects sit until the pressure mounts to unbearable levels. I do really, really like clearly defined jobs, unless it includes cleaning the toilet, in which case please clearly define the job somewhere else.

Where this article does not fit me, however, is simply that I do not need constant praise and affirmation. Praise was not something that came from my parents easily (meaning my father) and so I was always working to better myself to get any affirmation whatsoever. The result? I almost prefer a thoughtful criticism to a compliment. Compliments are nice, but criticism is a better way of achieving improvement. I mean, how can we improve ourselves without knowing where our deficiencies lie? If we only hear the good, we will tolerate the bad, and perhaps even embrace it. All our weaknesses, foibles, and ugliness will inadvertently endear itself to us. We’ll think that we ought to be accepted for who we are, regardless of our glaring faults, that we deserve such treatment instead of being grateful when someone genuinely cares. No one is grateful for what they think they deserve.

The terminology itself is deceptive, because when we’re not “accepted for who we are” at a place we truly don’t belong, it becomes an excuse for outrage. It’s a mask of tolerance that hides intolerance and entitlement, a mask that demands equal treatment for unequal entities which will never be equal no matter what because of nature. Then, when someone comes along and does try to improve us, you can bet your mother’s pony that we’ll be offended because that person pointed out our bad qualities instead of complimenting us on our good ones and “accepting us for who we are.” The entire idea for the human race (and for every species everywhere by natural selection), is to make each other better human beings, to make our race into a better race. The ones who adjust and improve will be the ones who are rewarded, and criticism is the best way to understand what needs improvement (the other species make their criticisms by refusing to mate with a poor specimen).

An illustration: My first two years out of high school I attended a junior college and played collegiate soccer (football for all you un-Americans). During preseason tryouts I was one of the worst players on the team, and I knew it. I rarely received any sort of praise, though I did get a good dose of healthy criticism. But it was because of this criticism that I knew exactly what I was doing wrong and was able to adjust my play. When tryouts ended I found out that I had not only made the team, but also earned the last remaining athletic scholarship. The coaches had noticed and liked my effort. On top of all that, before our team’s first game, I explicitly told my father that when the season ended I would be awarded for Most Improved Player, and that I would be the first man off the bench before too long. It pleases me to say that my prediction proved correct, and I even got the start in one of our postseason games, which should tell you a lot about the player I became. The award for Most Improved Player is sitting on a little ledge in my bedroom as I write this—all because I know how to take criticism. The recognition I received at the end was long-awaited, but also worth the wait and worth the criticism.

Four years ago I joined a small writer’s group. We get together maybe twice every month, drink Chai Tea made with Ice Cream, chat pleasantly… and then smash each other’s writing to pieces. It’s wonderful, and in those four years my writing has improved immensely. I have a better sense for what’s a good bit of writing and what doesn’t fit. I can discern between a good idea and a better idea, and my scalpel is sharper than ever when I need to cut a scene. All because when someone critiques my writing, I listen without taking offense. If their suggestions don’t jeopardize the integrity or structure of the work, then I will gladly use them.

That being said, everyone can use a little praise now and then, minus the criticism. Still, the praise ought to be earned and well-deserved, because everyone knows the criticism is. Criticism may be a tool of natural selection, but it’s also a way to avoid it.

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One response

  1. Pingback: The Childlike Author Feels… Triumphant | The Playground

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