Take the Back Seat in Your Art

All right. I am a greedy person. When it comes time to gather in my writer’s critique group, I jockey for the chance to present my work and garner some well earned critique (and possibly praise). 

I don’t think I’m alone in this creative selfishness. We all want to express our own views over those of others. While I teach my students in sixth grade, I usually find that kids raise their hand waiting to add their own thoughts. They never really listen to the people who speak before or after.

Yet we are all taught the need to take turns. Either through empathy or punishment. I recall as a Kindergartener, cutting in line for the slide and being soundly chastened by the teacher. Sharing isn’t easy for anyone.

Yet as artists, we are uniquely positioned to use this backseat position of critiquing to fuel our own art. The more I look into another person’s writing (I mean really dig in) the more I struggle to articulate what works and what doesn’t. 

It’s that struggle that can help me be a better writer. I learn from other people’s follies and triumphs. It educates the entire writing process. The most rewarding task is backing up and taking a wide-view of another’s work. What is the narrative through-line? Is there a strong conflict?

This is the sort of view that we, ourselves, often miss as creators. We’re so caught up in the details and nuances of the writing, that we miss the forest for the trees. The more I’m able to do this for others, the easier it is to do for my own work. 

Despite the innate greediness of human beings, when we step back and release the wheel, we can learn a lot about how our art works. 

Try it sometime and relish the joy of helping a fellow artist achieve their dream. Remember, the only time you should be looking down on someone is when you’re helping them up. 

Tim Kane

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