Saturday, August 11, 2018

Protecting Your Creative Spirit

by Rachel Kobin

Just as setting up healthy interpersonal boundaries is an important part of taking care of yourself, so is having clarity around how you want to share your creative output. Writing is my area of expertise, so I’ll focus there, but the issues I’ll briefly discuss are equally applicable to the visual arts.

First, let’s illustrate the distinction between making art and performance: making art can be purely personal, such as journaling, while as with a performative art, an audience is invited to hear the work read aloud or it is read on the page. Understandably, sharing new work makes writers (and artists) feel vulnerable—they’ve just poured a part of themselves onto a piece of paper. This is why, if a writer chooses to invite someone to read their work, they need to be clear about what kind of feedback they need and want to receive.

In the Tuesday-night workshops I lead, participants learn how to respond to newborn writing without making any negative comments. This is because the writing is done during workshop time, and no one has had a chance to edit their work. Even when writers bring in pages they’ve polished outside of workshop for us to “critique,” we begin by talking about everything we liked about the work, and we point to specific sentences, sections, or events in the piece that we enjoyed. Then, we move into answering questions like “What did we find confusing?” or “Which parts stood out as not as strong as the sections we liked so much?” The members of the workshop are asked again, to be specific, to point out actual examples in the text rather than make sweeping statements like, “I just don’t like romance stories,” because a comment like that will not help the writer of a romance to make their story even better. Most importantly, the discussion concludes by returning to what we liked about the work, again, which allows the writer to go home feeling good about continuing to work on their draft.

Similarly, it’s important to refrain from judging the content. For instance, the writer may hold an entirely different opinion than the reader does about a very controversial topic. The job of the reader providing feedback isn’t to argue with the writer’s perspective, but to help the writer make the most cogent possible argument supporting their point of view.

After eight years of leading workshops, I can testify to the number of times we’ve all laughed about how hard it is to show our work to friends, family, and romantic partners. The truth is that non-writers aren’t as interested, or they may feel they don’t “have what it takes,” to respond, which is why finding a group of other writers is so valuable. However, reassuring the reader that you value their gut reactions may help, and it also helps to give them specific guidelines such as those I outlined above. Timing is important; no one likes being ambushed. If you present your writing, give the other person the time and space they need to read your work and get back to you, but be clear about how and when you’d like to receive the feedback.

Most of all, create as if no one will ever see what you’re making. Decide later how, when and with whom you’d like to share, but if anything or anyone begins to shut you down in any way, step away and find the support you need.

Rachel Kobin is the director of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop. Rachel uses the Amherst Writers & Artists™ method to create a supportive, collaborative setting for writers of all backgrounds. The workshop allows beginners to explore their unique voice, and provides experienced writers a forum where they can further develop their craft. For more information or email

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