29 August 2011

Critical Learning 101

by Diane Carlisle


A fellow writer from my writing group sent me an email about her thoughts on the valuable feedback we garner from the members of our critique group. We both believe that feedback is important in our development as writers and we have that thick skin needed in order to drink in the feedback and apply what we can to our stories and our different writing styles.

My friend's email reminded me of a quick story about when I had the first critique during my professional career as a computer programmer. As you may know, many people do not like to be forced out of their comfort zone to learn something new; they would rather stay with what they know and be the expert. Not me. I have to find new things to learn or I become restless and depressed. Complacency isn't something that sits well with me.

So, one day, I receive a new assignment which calls for having to learn how to write a program using this new software product. Of course, with several other programmers in the department who had many more years experience than I, yet none of them had the time to learn it, guess what? They decide that not only do I get to write the program, it will be time to incorporate critical reviews for all new products that we design. Ta da! I get to be first. But, that's okay, I'll be the guinea pig.

Midway through my creation, I discovered we'd had this product for nearly 2 years already, and some of the more experienced programmers had ample opportunity to "play" with it and fool around with writing programs at their leisure. So, they had all used this product before to write programs that would never be put under the microscope!

Anyway, did I complain? Nope, because I don't beat myself up for sticking myself out there. Not a lot of people can do that. It's like they accept defeat before they are ever really challenged.

Either way, I got my program finished and during the design review I received a lot of great feedback and questions about what I had intended with my design. I answered the questions professionally and I think I gained a little more respect from the bigger players and managers.

Then, out of the blue, another experienced programmer asked rather accusingly, "Why didn't you just use ______ to _____ and do a _____________?" (blanks are used here to remove techie programming terms, but you get the idea, right?). This person sounded really smart and pretty important at that given moment. They even made it sound really easy to use this product with which I'd struggled to master while designing my program.

In all honesty, I wasn't even taken back by this and simply answered, "I didn't have two years to study the product before I had to use it for this program here, thus I had to be creative and do it my way." Either way, it was a successful product that I built and people are still using it today.

The original question by my fellow writer was how do we continue after the critiques and feedback? Do you move forward and finish your story and then revise, or do you incorporate changes as you receive them? I say move forward but some people feel obligated to make changes right away in case they forget about them.

As for moving forward and not looking back, I think of it like the Titanic. Tell the story even though you know the ship is sinking. In the end, you will have a story. But like the Titanic, it isn't going anywhere once it reaches the bottom of the ocean, you can still work on your story and polish it when you have the time. You will just need to dive into the ocean to do it. What an adventure!

Are you a "quick to the finish" writer or a "polish as you go" type?

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