Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way by Nola Passmore



Some years ago, I found a brochure in my letterbox advertising a beginner’s class in watercolours.  It would only take up three Saturdays, so I thought I’d give it a try.  At the first lesson, Margaret the instructor showed us how to stretch our paper and apply different kinds of washes.  So far, so good.  My paper was damp and stretched on my board.  My background washes were passable.  My brush was poised to add the dark silhouette of a tree.  And then … disaster struck.  The tree was deformed, the colour was too dark.  I tried to fix it, but each brushstroke only made it worse.  Margaret walked around the room, commenting on each person’s masterpiece.  By the time she got to me, I was disheartened and embarrassed.   ‘I’ve mucked up the tree,’ I blurted out.  ‘It’s hideous.’

'But look at these lovely colours you have in the sky,' she said, pointing to a tiny patch in amongst the branches.

She was right.  I did have some lovely colours in one tiny square of the painting.  I’ll never give Monet a run for his money, but those words of encouragement kept me going.  I did twelve lessons with Margaret and a number of workshops with other artists.  Some of my pieces have been good enough to give as gifts.  I won an encouragement award at an art show.  I later took up acrylics and managed to sell one of my works.  If my teacher hadn’t found something good in my very first painting, I probably wouldn’t have turned up for Lesson 2.

This made me think about my writing journey.  I’ve had a lot of positive feedback over the years, but there have also been detractors.  A work colleague made me feel inadequate because I hadn’t published as many academic papers as him.  His reaction made me lose heart.  A friend scoffed at my idea of publishing a poetry collection.  It was another 25 years before I started writing poetry again.  Now I’m older and wiser, I try not to let other people’s opinions dictate whether I can pursue my dreams or not.  God’s opinion is what matters.  However, He also made us for relationship.  The words of other people, especially those we love and trust, can have an effect for good or bad.

How do you respond to the creative efforts of others?  Do you pick out every spelling mistake and grammatical error, but fail to see the big picture of what they’re trying to communicate?  Do you criticise works that aren’t your cup of tea, yet neglect the beautiful imagery the author has used?  I admit I’ve been too critical at times.  As an editor, it’s easy to look for all of the problems without taking enough time to comment on the things that are done well.  I’m not suggesting we give people false hope and pretend their work is wonderful when it’s sorely lacking.  My art teacher sometimes took the brush out of my hand and demonstrated a technique to help me improve.  However, she also told me what was good.

Let’s make a habit of giving constructive feedback to help each other be the best we can be, but let’s also give encouragement.  Whether we’re beginners in the starting blocks or seasoned professionals with lots of runs on the board, those cheers from the side lines can spur us on to greater heights.

Do you have a story of someone who’s helped you in your writing journey?  I’d love to hear about your experiences.


Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 140 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, magazine articles, academic papers, poetry and short fiction.  She loves sharing what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can find her weekly writing tips blog at their website:  http://www.thewriteflourish.com.au  

10 comments:

  1. Love your post Nola. Encouragement is important though I also like what you say about not giving false hope. I read an article recently that suggested that when we are first starting out we need the freedom to explore and develop without too much criticism (even constructive). Eventually, I think we begin to realise that constructive criticism is worth its weight in gold - but its the encouragement (knowing that other appreciate and love our work) that keeps us going.

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    1. Hi Jenny - Yes, that's so true about having the freedom to explore. I think I read that in "The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron. She talks about giving ourselves the freedom to fail and to just enjoy the creative process. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics too and not even attempt something if we think it's not going to be very good. That was a freeing idea for me. Might be time to get the crayons out again :) Thanks for your encouragement.

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  2. Great post Nola. I found it helpful that you mentioned the fact of not allowing others to dictate our journeys. And yet as you pointed out - comments of others do leave nasty stings and do affect us. I was very sad to hear how the unkind remarks about your poetry stopped you writing poetry for 25 years. Wow! I am so glad you started again.

    I do agree that it's too easy to be critical. But encouragement wins each time. I confess my son was little I'd find fault too quickly - and later was very remorseful about it. But later was too late. And it did affect my impulsive but well meaning son.

    I am still learning to accept criticism in my own journey so I can write better and also live better. And yes, the encouragement of others have truly blessed me time and time again. I pray we will all get more adept at giving it.

    And by the way - I do like that painting you didn't think much of. It caught my eye at once and I thought it was a professional job. And perhaps it was! :) Truly!

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    1. Thanks Anusha. You're always such a ray of encouragement :) During my poetry wilderness, I did still write a lot of songs, but it is sad that I left it so long to go back to that early dream. Working on a poetry collection at the moment and will keep at it this time :)

      It can be hard to learn to accept criticism too, but if we're open to it, it can certainly improve our writing. Always good when it's done in an encouraging way though. I need to learn that myself too.

      And thanks for the comment about that painting. I was probably also comparing myself to the others in the class who all did brilliant paintings. I'd starve if I had to make a living from my art, but at least I've learned to have fun with it. Thanks for your feedback :)

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  3. God bless the encouragers. Although it is true that we may profit from constructive criticism, I do believe there are far many more constructive critics out in the world than plain encouragers. Maybe it's because we are trained to look for defects and areas for improvement from our earliest school days. This makes encouragement, and the ability to simply be wowed, a real gift. I think encouragers must be happy people. Also, as there are so many people ready to raise their hands to offer constructive criticism, I remember the encouragers, who are possibly responsible for many projects not being aborted.
    I also was surprised when I saw the 'hideous' arrow up above, Nola. I thought it had a lot going for it :)

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    1. Hi Paula - Yes you're probably right about the school system training us to look for defects. In my days as an academic, I had to be careful to also comment on what a student had done well and not just pick out the errors. We certainly do need more encouragers who'll cheer us on. I wonder how many wonderful creative projects have been abandoned because of a negative word?

      And thanks for the comment about that painting. Maybe it looks better at a distance than up close and personal? O maybe I was just too critical. Thanks for your comments :)

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  4. Yes - God bless the encouragers! I do believe we need both - constructive criticism and lots of encouragement. But I am deeply thankful to my late parents for encouraging and fostering my writing talent. And later, to Charles Ringma, founder of Teen Challenge, for believing in my writing and opening doors for me. Charles has since had about 14 books published himself. Thank you, those who have encouraged me and helped me along the way. I may not have persevered otherwise. With my speech and drama pupils, I always major on the positives while trying to correct the faults. Same would apply with writing.

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    1. Thanks Jeanette. Yes, praise God for encouraging parents and teachers/mentors. It's amazing how far a little bit of encouragement can take us. Your drama students are very fortunate to have you as their teacher. Thanks for your feedback :)

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  5. A timely post, Nola. Combining encouragement with helpful knowledge of how to improve a work, be it painting, poetry or novel writing is a gift. Some do not possess this precious attitude. As many of you have said, 'it's just too easy to criticise'. It makes the person feel superior, I guess. But when you know an experienced person is really trying to help, then you should listen & weigh the information.

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  6. Nice post Nola. One of my favourite mentors encouraged me much with bucket loads of excellent advice. I loved our get-togethers till it became clear that she is no fan of believers. This didn't matter to me but it mattered to her and eventually put an end to the mentoring.

    I am very grateful to her and loved the times we hung out playing word games whilst dipping our TimTams in some hot liquid.

    I think back of her encouraging attitude towards me with twinges of sadness.

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