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.
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