On working with creative feedback

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I thrive on structure in my creative work. But it’s also the most vulnerable spot in my creative process.

Preparing to write my thesis for my MFA made this painfully clear. When I convened the meeting with my thesis committee to vet my proposal, I thought I had a decent outline of the chapters I would write, even if underneath it all, I wasn’t ready to write a full book. The subject was family history, the narrative through-line of the memoir a recent medical diagnosis, the questions pertaining to the former woven into the story of the latter. It was a sound project, and my advisor was just as on board with it as I was.

Within the first ten minutes of the meeting, the outline went out the window.

The other committee members were fascinated by the questions I wanted to ask — so much so that they felt the outline was premature and too prescriptive an investigation. There was so much to play with here, they said, not just in the subject matter but in how I might present it.

I was amazed at their enthusiasm and grateful for their lively intellectual engagement with the proposal, but my gut churned as their discussion became more and more speculative and less concrete. Yes, they were raising excellent questions in the name of deepening and expanding the project. I needed a plan, though, and telling me to scrap the one I had in favor of “just seeing what happens” was the last thing I’d expected to hear. Wouldn’t we all be more comfortable with at least some kind of provisional framework? A sense of the way things could fit together? No, it seemed this was part of the very essence of the project they believed I needed to spend more time with once I’d begun writing, not before. To allow the structure to evolve on its own.

I didn’t know how to explain that this wasn’t how I worked. But I didn’t trust my instincts enough to challenge their approach. And even though I knew my advisor had liked my original proposal, her agreement with the other members of my committee now gave me the greatest reason to stay quiet. Because I trusted her.

In reality, I needed to trust us both. To take her advice and the committee’s but use only what felt truly aligned with who I knew myself to be in my creative process.

This project was the beginning of my real training in making these discernments, which I talk about in the next part of this story. For now, I’ll leave you with the following questions to support your own work:

Who do you trust to provide feedback on your creative work? When you receive feedback, how do you discern what is in alignment with your creative instincts and what to leave for consideration at a different time? Share your story with me by clicking the button below or check out this offering if you would like 1:1 support in aligning feedback with your creative vision.