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On Clipping Wings

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 5, 2019

Today, while on a coffee break with my gaggle of Red Cross guys, a friend told me that he had dabbled in writing stories, after a vignette he'd written at school received an award. His mother though was skeptical, and when she went to read it in the exhibit the school had for the awarded essays, she told him it wasn't worth it.

He doesn't have this award-winning story because his mother refused to take it when the school people gave it to her, and it was lost.

Still, he kept dabbling and he had flair and imagination for another, more ambitious story. He put it to paper, and completed it! He managed to write an entire book!

But when his mother and siblings read it, they laughed and told him it was garbage, and so he threw it away, and ever since has refused to try and create anything ever again. He didn't even want to tell me what the book was about.

He did tell me what the awarded story was about. It was a pretty interesting, semi-horror/ modern fantasy spin on an athlete's effort to win in the Olympic Games. It even had a nice bit about making choices thrown in. I can definitely see why it was praised at the school. But when I told him so, he shook his head and said that it was terrible.

Another friend that was listening said “your folks clipped your wings.”

He denied it, saying that they simply grounded him to reality that he just doesn't have the talent that it takes to write things.

I can't tell you how terrible it felt to hear him say that.

Most likely, the story written by a child wouldn't have the maturity and experience that a novelist commands. Shocking, I know.

Maybe his book had ten thousand plot holes and cardboard characters or a pile up of cliche's higher than the Burj Khalifa.

So what. It was a finished first draft. It's not easy to finish a book at all. That alone is an excellent start.

He didn't need to hear that what he had invested time and effort to put on paper was garbage. Even if it was terrible or subpar, what he needed to hear was praise.

Not superficial, unrealistic praise.

Praise on finishing the damn book, first. Praise on creating characters, a plot, a world. Praise for effort that is the biggest promise one can have.

Then, after that, he would be ready to hear feedback. But constructive feedback. Not “here's how to improve your garbage book” but “here's how I think this would be more compelling”.

It's easy to clip wings.

It's much harder to strengthen them to be able to support a person's flight.

Do the latter, for goodness' sake.

(Rant over. Thank you.)

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AmeliaP at 4:24PM, Oct. 15, 2019

"He denied it, saying that they simply grounded him to reality..." Why people insist so much to think they know the "ultimate truth" and "reality"? Conforming to one answer is pretty unrealistic, it's like to follow dogmas and never ask any question in your life again.

bravo1102 at 9:45AM, Oct. 6, 2019

Sturgeon's Revelation: 90% of everything is shit. To which is added : Every creator thinks their work is in the 10%. And this: though 90% of everything is shit, the fans love it anyway. Hemingway's law of writing: Every first draft is shit. Block's axiom of the rewrite: the writer is only washing garbage and no matter how clean it still remains garbage. Create anyway and know the line between self-deprecation and self-flagellation.

bravo1102 at 6:04AM, Oct. 6, 2019

As for criticism-- unless you've had the classroom instruction about how to give it, most people can't. There are classes and even then people get it wrong. Praise in public, critique in private. Always start with the positive. Always tell someone how it can be improved. Not just a list of things they did wrong. You don't tell them how to make it better, your criticism is worthless. Period. You're just knocking them down when you should be building them up and making them better. You don't do that you're WRONG! Now get out of my face until you have a change of attitude. Move out. (The military is great for teaching this stuff)

bravo1102 at 5:58AM, Oct. 6, 2019

When I finally got around to showing my comics to family I got savaged. I was already over 50 but it still really hurt. So I don't show it to friends. The silence is usually pretty deafening if I link to it on FB or something. They always did support my writing though and my art but that was back in HS. In college they wouldn't accept me majoring in art so I went with other far less useful things. So my wings weren't clipped so much as torn out by the roots. Took a lot of therapy to rebuild a pair.

dotcrossbuns at 5:57PM, Oct. 5, 2019

Rather like how most people are bad at writing -- but, you know, Sturgeon's law. (Of course, opinions will vary on whether a given critic has valid points or is merely an "asshole".) On one hand, critics should strive to be polite and reasonable when addressing creators. On the other hand, if you don't want to hear others' opinions of your work, don't put it on the internet. Writing for an audience, like communication, is a two-way street. And if you want others to help you improve, you'd better listen to more of them than just your echo chamber of uncritical fans.

Avart at 4:12PM, Oct. 5, 2019

"I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown" (Luke 4:24) I'm not receiving feedback from family nor friends about my stuff. Sure, they like my drawings but about the whole thing it's a different stuff. The thing is, that I learn to go on without the opinions of my closest people.

hushicho at 4:11PM, Oct. 5, 2019

Frankly, most people are bad at critique and are basically just assholes. They think that "creators should eagerly accept criticism from everyone" and say people need to "grow a thick skin"...both of these assertions are just transparent excuses for people who just want to give themselves permission to be abusive. Parents and family are often the worst about it; they don't actually understand working in a creative field, and they associate "I like it" with "this is good", like a lot of people who should never be critiquing anything. And because it can't be said enough, right on with what usedbooks said: blood relation is meaningless. If someone is toxic, whoever they are, disassociate. And adding my own bit to that: don't take everyone seriously or give their opinion equal weight. If you don't find their critique useful, discard it. Most of the time, you didn't need it anyway.

dotcrossbuns at 2:16PM, Oct. 5, 2019

"It's easy to clip wings." With a child, maybe. Many adult writers and artists simply ignore or reject criticism, whether constructive or not. The behavior you describe is unfortunate, but if he'd had a mother like mine instead, he could easily have grown up to be a bad writer who couldn't take criticism and refused to improve. There are more than enough of those.

Genejoke at 7:40AM, Oct. 5, 2019

I got that sort of thing from my brother, it ended up making me not want to ever show my art to anyone. It took me years to even try making webcomics, and even now I haven't done anything I'm actually proud of.

usedbooks at 7:33AM, Oct. 5, 2019

My family supports all my bad ideas. :) (Very thankful fortune gave them to me.) I'll never be wealthy or famous or award-winning, but I cannot imagine being more content. Do what you enjoy and surround yourself with encouraging people, and you will take pride and strive to do it better. (And blood relation is meaningless. If someone is toxic, whoever they are, disassociate.)

Banes at 7:19AM, Oct. 5, 2019

Most of the things I care about now were attacked early on as a waste of time, or a mistake, or a bad idea. I assume family usually means well, but...well, people sometimes have no idea what they're talking about. Even if that guy's story or novel were terrible (I'm betting they weren't), that would have been irrelevant. They were early efforts, and like you said, finishing a novel is a massive achievement! He would have only gotten better if he'd kept at it. The quality of a single effort has nothing to do with anything.

fallopiancrusader at 6:51AM, Oct. 5, 2019

I can relate. When I was 16, I was obsessed with going to Art Center college of design, but my parents told me I didn't have enough talent to be accepted, so they refused to send in my application. Funny enough, I worked with some graduates of that school years later, and they said that if I had gone to Art Center, I would have been one of the most talented people there. Thanks, parents!

NicAndBen at 5:23AM, Oct. 5, 2019

Thank you for this, Tantz Aerine! Seriously. People have no idea how destructive they can be to others sometimes. You can’t choose your family, but thank goodness you can choose your friends :)

dpat57 at 12:25AM, Oct. 5, 2019

Well said! Family, what can ya do.

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