Afterthought #65 – Better Than Liking

cwcYou know that feeling when you return from a conference (probably on any subject, but for me, it’s usually one focused on writing) with notes scrawled all over handouts and your program? And your mind swirling with new ideas? That happened to me earlier this month at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. This was the second time I attended this annual event, and it was every bit as good as the previous one. Knowledgeable presenters, inspiring topics, innovative approaches, and thought-provoking conversations.

eaOne session I’ll be sharing with my writing group was led by former Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen regarding critiquing others’ writing. I’ve re-blogged her post about references to help in Getting Beyond “I Like…” As much as we writers might think we want to hear those words, I agree with Elizabeth that, if that’s all someone says, “It’s sweet but has no nutritive value. It’s like giving someone who craves protein a gumdrop.”

In addition to Elizabeth’s post, here are a few gems she spoke about that I’ll draw on to give meaningful feedback:

Praise what’s vital, vivid, alive, and evocative.
Switch from “I like” to “I notice.”
Comment on what stays with you and what you remember.
Avoid saying, “this doesn’t work for me,” or “if this were my piece I’d…”
Critiquing someone else’s work develops skills for your own revision.

And I’ll remember her advice when receiving critique:

Take the comments and allow them to metabolize before revising.
What we make is not us.
Precise critique conveys a sense of having been read deeply.

Thanks for the protein, Elizabeth!

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

Elizabeth Austen


This morning I’ll give a talk on workshops and critique groups at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. Here are some of the resources I’ll cite and recommend, plus a few extras:

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland

Searching for Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker

Simone Weil on Attention and Grace

Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (pdf)

Interview with William Stafford on workshops (among other things)

The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long

Writing Alone and With Others, Patricia Schneider

The Writer’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop, Steve Kowit

“In the Workshop after I Read My Poem Aloud,” Don Colburn

Next Word, Better Word, Stephen Dobyns (esp. the chapter on revision)

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