A couple months ago, I heard someone talk about his experiences with a demolition project in a nearby city. He talked about surveying the property and how they set up the charges and what it felt like watching the building come down.
But then he made the comment that they were able to destroy in less than a day what took months—or possibly even years—to build. He said, “It is much, much easier to destroy something than it is to build it.”
I’ve thought about this a lot since then and about what, within my sphere of influence, I can build up rather than destroy. And I’m trying to do those things. Somethings are small things, like trying to smile and say, “Good morning,” to more people as I walk down the street or choosing to be happy instead of grumpy (which is often harder than it looks).
There are other things, too, like critiquing manuscripts. It’s easy for me to be impatient and see only the perceived flaws in something. But that’s not the best way. One thing that has really impressed me with the workshops in my master’s program is how kind almost everyone is. They are so good at pointing out the good and encouraging growth instead of tearing down. This kind of attitude, where no one is trying to prove how much better they are by trashing someone else’s project, allows everyone to learn better.
I know I learn better that way. I learn so much better when someone points out what I’m doing right rather than focusing solely on what I’m doing wrong. And I know in parenting that kids do much better when they’re praised and encouraged instead of constantly yelled at. That’s just human nature.
But it’s oh, so much easier to destroy something than it is to build it up…
Wait, you might be saying. Isn’t critiquing supposed to point out the problems?
In a way. Critiquing is intended to help writers improve, but they first need some idea of what’s working. It’s also important for writers (who tend to be neurotic and in need of lots of reassurance) to know what they’re doing well and to feel like they have potential. And then, once they know that, you can encourage them to improve the other things, the things that aren’t working so well, to the same level as the good.
It’s not always easy to critique a manuscript like that, but I’ve found that when I go to a manuscript looking for the good, I can always find it. And when I start focusing on that, I can start to see where I can improve my own writing in subtle ways that I hadn’t noticed before. So instead of picking up a critique looking to find out what’s bad in it (and no book is ever perfect), try to look for the good and help that to grow. Try to build up and encourage and you might be surprised at what you learn along the way.
Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.