The Mark Blog

The Gift of Criticism


Image: Kelley MacDonald

Yesterday I had my Mid-Project Review for The Mark Program. Usually, I get so nervous in interview-type situations that everything becomes a blur. I become both energized and exhausted. It’s exciting and, at the same time, I leave bone-tired and not remembering half the things I’ve said.

Fortunately for me, yesterday’s Mid-Project Review was not a blur. I don’t know what set it apart—a good meal beforehand? Familiarity with the committee? The fact that we hold workshop at the same table every other week? Whatever it was, the details of our conversation remain clear to me, and I’m particularly grateful, because I’m compelled to write and revisit pieces of my manuscript, based on our discussion.

I entered the one-hour meeting anxious to hear what the members of The Mark committee (Rob Roberge, Antoine Wilson and Libby Flores) thought of my revisions to my novel-in-progress. After years of workshops, I’m pretty good at accepting critical commentary on my writing but, of course, receiving positive feedback is always more fun (even if it isn’t as productive for the writing).

In truth, though, I know that for my readers, responding critically actually requires far more engagement than presenting praise. And it helps propel writing, whereas praise typically, stagnantly, and more simply, buoys it. I believe that positive reinforcement is crucial, and I also believe that constructive, nuanced criticism is a gift. I don’t always enjoy processing it, but I do enjoy the end product of having improved my writing because of it.

So, the fact that the tone of The Mark discussion was both evaluative and encouraging felt just right to me. The committee members posed questions that I hadn’t before thought to ask of my work: Why is the chronology structured like this, and not this? What is this character’s role, and do we know her well enough for her to fill it? Have I yet made choices about X?

And while it’s frustrating to me that I don’t have the answers to all of these questions yet, I’m also heartened by the fact of being asked them. Now it is my responsibility to take these challenging questions and feedback and respond to them, both consciously and intuitively, in my writing.