I used to work with someone who has the same degree from the same university as me. In one of those small world moments, we realized that since we graduated just a few years apart we probably passed each other on campus, but we don’t remember having any classes together. Every once in awhile we’d talk about some of our favorite teachers in our department and one day we were both raving about a writing teacher and as soon as we started to say his name we realized we were raving about the same one.
As we raved about him, the things we talked about most (other than how nice he is, cause he’s the nicest guy and one of these lessons should be “be like him”) are the things he taught us that weren’t even related to the craft of writing, but are life lessons that are beneficial to all. Here are three lessons for creatives.
1 // Give Yourself Your Title
If you make art, you’re an artist. If you write, you’re a writer. Take ownership of what you do and give yourself that title. What really stood out to me in class is that during our critiques he would talk about “the author.” This caught me off guard at first. I always think of an “author” as someone who’s published, but if you look up the definition of the word author in the dictionary it says: “a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.” and “to write, to be the author of,” among others. When he referred to me as the “author” during my critique, I allowed myself to take on that title. Once I referred to myself as an author, I also realized I could and should take my writing seriously. If I was going to take ownership of that title, I needed to do the work to back it up.
2 // Be Able to Take Criticism.
Criticism. It can hurt. You put your heart and soul into your painting or your song or your story or your blog post. And if someone criticizes whatever it is you shared with the world–or that one person who feels like the world–you’ll probably feel it and it usually doesn’t feel good.
But here’s the thing: not everybody is going to like what you put into the world. And that’s okay. We all have different interests and tastes. That’s what makes life interesting! So you need to learn how handle that criticism. You need to learn how to take the (hopefully constructive) criticism you need to hear so that you can grow and let go of the noise. Also remember: if someone shares criticism that’s mean and not constructive, it says more about them than it does about you. Don’t let their ish drag you down.
During our critiques we weren’t allowed to talk. This was so valuable because we weren’t allowed to get defensive. If a comment hit us wrong, we weren’t able to respond, so there were no heated exchanges between the author and the reader. (Particularly important in the day and age of the internet, where it’s so easy for an author to respond to a negative book review or for a blogger or YouTuber to respond to a negative comment or thread on Get Off My Internet. Just take a deep breath and let it go without getting involved in an exchange.) We also didn’t have a chance to defend our story in the face of criticism. Each reader will have an interpretation and their interpretation is valid.
3 // Always Eat Pizza
Okay, so he never actually said that, but he had a pizza party for my class and my coworker said he also had a pizza party for hers. The takeaway: treat yourself and celebrate the milestones, whether it’s completing the best writing class ever (😭) or having your short story published in the school’s art and literary journal, like a few of my classmates.
What are some creative lessons you’ve learned?