Off With His Head

hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and meat patty

Yesterday afternoon in the Saturday-afternoon feedback group, we began talking about the ‘off with his head’ or ‘out-it-goes’ part of writing.  We acknowledged that as a group we’d always been very supportive and encouraging of each others work.  That was because we were all in it together.  Our critiquing was not telling lies; it was from a place of open hearted acceptance.  Everything you put on the page is acceptable.

Sometimes someone says, ‘I want a rigorous no-holds-barred assessment of my work.’  But what do you say to them when the writing is dull and boring?  Don’t give up your day job?  It doesn’t sit comfortably with most of us to be directly critical of someone’s writing.  It’s like telling someone how ugly their baby is.  All of us find it hard to separate our writing from ourselves, and are prone to take criticism personally.

The feedback sandwich is a widely known technique for giving constructive feedback, by ‘sandwiching’ the criticism between two pieces of praise or compliments.


hamburger with cheese and two beef patties

Yesterday, as we passed around copies of our work (just a page or two) we started to address what William Faulkner famously said:

‘In writing, you must kill all your darlings.’

First of all, we looked for the juice in each piece.  Where did the writing come alive?  ‘Get rid of the rest,’ we said.  ‘Off with his head—out it goes.’   It’s very difficult to be this honest, and not everyone wants to hear it.  ‘I simply want gentle support and a few corrections,’ some of us might say.

Be willing to have the courage to look at your work with truthfulness.  It’s good to know where your writing has energy and vitality, rather than to spend a lot of time trying to make something come to life that is dead on the page.   Keep writing.  Something new will come up.    You don’t want to put your readers to sleep by writing a lot of boring stuff.


6 thoughts on “Off With His Head

  1. For me, the worst form of criticism of all is deathly silence – when someone asks to read something, then studiously avoids discussing it or even mentioning it, thereafter; not even acknowledging that they’ve actually read it. I used to say to my son, when he was still young enough to want to listen to me, that compliments make you feel good and motivate you to keep going, but it’s criticism that helps you grow stronger and be better at what you’re doing. I’ll take constructive criticism any day; but spare me the deathly silence, please.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am with Xpatscot. Nothing worse than someone not saying anything or avoiding the subject all together. When I draw something I am actually impressed by and I show that artwork to someone, or put it out on social media and it gets no hits, its pretty devastating. But just with artwork, writing is subjective. People react to your work based on thier experiences in life. Someone who grew up with “a silver spoon in their mouth” will react differently from someone who has struggled financially.
    So just as we have to accept criticism, we also have to be honest with ourselves and not automatically change “our” work because someone didn’t like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so true. especially the last point re not changing our work because one person doesn’t like it. as artists we’re so sensitive to what other people say it’s extra hard not to take on board other peoples comments – even if we disagree.

      Liked by 1 person

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