November 2, 2022

Receiving (& giving) Caring Criticism is hard. It’s vital, too. [Letter to Elephant Academy]

How (not to criticize our writing). A letter to Elephant Academy.

Recently, a virtual friend of mine, someone I like a great deal, and respect, was wounded by my overhasty editing (which included both compliments and criticisms) of a piece of her writing, live, in front of Elephant Academy. I often edit live, so folks can both see how to edit, offer criticism straightforwardly but with kindness, and to help folks see how to edit their own writing.

We messaged about the hurt I’d caused her afterward, and both showed up for each other, I hope.

Today, I wrote this for the Academy, generally, and figured you might enjoy a peak inside our community:


Good morning sunshine,

…to all you sweet hearts finding your voices and aiming to serve truth and goodness, gosh knows we need it.

Our current Academy is going swimmingly…except perhaps that a few of us understandably don’t feel respected when critiqued by me.

I grew up writing, journalism, and in publishing, and perhaps I’m too used to having red ink all over my work that I put so much love and care into. I remember being “the best in the class” at BU and literally my entire document would come back red inked, slashed, with a bad grade…as the “best,” my work was often awful. But they weren’t just being mean, they were showing me the way forward, what not to do, what to do so I could connect and advance facts or mission. I’m sure they did a better job than me in conveying that.

I also grew up with an English Composition/ writing-teaching mom who would literally spellcheck and red ink my letters back to me. Again, I appreciated it.

So all this probably makes me overly comfortable assuming (ass of me) that we want critique, whether a mix of positive, critical, or what. That’s what a writing school is about, on some level. It’s not meant to insult you in any way, honest. In fact, as I’ve gone through work, what I see is connection, lack of connection, and try to point both out. It’s natural in training, whether martial arts or yoga or meditation or writing or craft, to have to work through this chaff to get to the voice. It’s not easy, and I hope I never said it was. It’s simple. But it’s hard!

So, am I a bad teacher? Perhaps. And in the ways I am, I do and have apologized. But is this world overly reliant on commercial or capitalistic please-the-customer while not-actually-serving them mentality? Perhaps, and I don’t want to buy into that, and I hope you don’t either.

So this isn’t meant to be all roses, but it should feel constructive and helpful even if hard and disappointing and vulnerable and all the feels.

Finally, I’ll add that this is my role. It’s a privilege, a joy to serve you, but it’s also a hard one, because I do want to be honest whether good or bad or more likely both, but I also want you to feel open and receptive, and I’ve failed that for some.

Yours in the Vision of the Great Eastern Sun,

Waylon H. Lewis

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