On the Gift of Constructive Criticism

Two months ago I handed my “completed” dissertation into my doctoral committee.  I was pleased with the result but not wholly certain I was finished … there was no feeling of completion yet.  When I’ve really finished a writing project I feel a sense of peace but I hadn’t yet come to that place with this document.

But when my supervisor congratulated me and said the document was done, elation quickly suppressed my surprise.  We talked about defense dates and other administrivia but two weeks later when I met with my committee and was told there were some changes that had to be made, I really wasn’t all that surprised.

The critique was actually a relief to me.  And as I listened to what one member of my committee had to say, I felt a sense of peace coming over me.  She asked me where I was in the document, where was the creativity and voice.  In fact the one poem I had written to preface the document had been circled with the notation “author?” beneath it.  That alone told me much.  This poem was not recognizable as the essence of my voice.

Although that meeting meant I would not complete and defend this summer, it also gave me the permission to move from academics into creativity.  My Master’s thesis was full of poetry, narrative, photography, art and voice.  It oozed with it (to the exclusion of academic tone).  With my doctoral dissertation the pendulum had swung the other way.

And so I came home from that meeting excited and a bit afraid.  I put my notes and my new library books aside.  Then I very consciously sidestepped them for three weeks.  Add a poem and a story, perhaps a few pictures.  Good idea, however, not one that can be forced.

The creative process has its own ebb and flow.  I’ve done this before.  I ignore a project, almost slipping into procrastination.  And then suddenly it takes me.  I am swept away with it.  Or what I’ve been looking for is suddenly found in a quote or a reading … then I’m gone.  Writing madly and it is finished.

The process has started again.  The books were taken up two weeks ago.  And the writing began in the in/between spaces of notebooks.  On Friday it began to come together.  Notes from weeks and months ago.  Half started poems, pictures staged in my mind and now taking shape through my camera lens.  This week will be fruitful.  And then it will be done.  The anticipation is sweet.  And I give thanks for people who will read my work, critique it, encourage me, and push me.  I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed.

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