Learning From Those Unlike Myself

Photography, Writing


fallivyIt’s a new month, so I thought I’d start with a quick update.

I’m taking another photography class, and I’m actively part of a new writer’s critique group.  Sadly, the previous one…well, it seems to have imploded within two weeks of my joining (yes, quite coincidentally).

Although I’ve had my fair share of photography and art classes as well as experience with writing classes/workshops, I feel a bit out of my element with these new groups.

For my writing group, we meet in person every two weeks or so for critiques.  I understand the basics well enough to be dangerous, but the other people are so unlike myself.  Demographically, the other members of my writing group are the complete opposite of me and our backgrounds are diametrically different. Needless-to-say, it’s created interesting conversations, often me making a fool of myself (I already did it once so I figured should be easier the next time around).

For my photography class, the instructor and I have different aesthetic sensibilities as well as different notions on what a “critique” should entail.  At the moment, I’m not quite sure how interested they are in actually “teaching.”  We’ve only had two classes so far, but it wouldn’t surprise me if students start dropping out.

Myself? I had thought about dropping the class and getting a refund after the first one.  But, I know that I need this class.  While I’m not keen on the instructor’s personality or teaching methods, the instructor is a successful and technically proficient photographer – so there’s something to be learned from all that experience and knowledge.

Besides, so much of this brave new world of social media allows for us to exist in our own echo chamber.  Easily dismissing what doesn’t support or confirm to our own views or aesthetics.  So far, even though we’re very different, I like my writing group and the pieces the others write challenges my thinking and the ways I read their material so I can be more helpful to them.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t stay in a bad group or a bad class if all you get from it is suffering.  But don’t be afraid to be a bit daring.  Having a variety of experiences provides you with the confidence to curate the valuable stuff from the slush – though Henry James says it more eloquently in “Art of Fiction” when he talks about the notion (and importance) of experience:

The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life, in general, so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it–this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience, and they occur in country and in town, and in the most differing stages of education. If experience consists of impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience, just as (have we not seen it?) they are the very air we breathe. Therefore, if I should certainly say to a novice, “Write from experience, and experience only,” I should feel that this was a rather tantalising monition if I were not careful immediately to add, “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!”


4 thoughts on “Learning From Those Unlike Myself

  1. Your skills as a photographer and a writer are growing each day. 🙂 I’ve been thinking of taking couple of classes, but have stuck to Korean paper craft. I find it hard to share my work with other writers (or anyone else for that matter). It’s terrifying. 😦 And I think, it’s fantastic for you to join a critique class. All the best!

    1. Thanks, Cheryl 🙂

      Yeah, critiques are nerve-racking at times – and generally, it’s not so much from the anxiety that’s inherit in being an insecure writer (the fear that people will just reaffirm your thoughts about your writing or yourself).

      But, often, it comes from the surprising things that people interpret from what you’ve written. Which can either put you on the defensive or you become open to exploring those new ideas – or both, and in any order, depending on how the conversation goes. I’ve been in a number of critiques, current and past, where I thought certain conversations were going to lead to fisticuffs. And history is littered with infamous literary feuds and rivalries (everyone’s a critic).

      Anyway, you’re blogging so in essence you’re already sharing your writing with other people. Well, at least one type of writing with other people 🙂

      This post already shows my bias, but I’d strongly recommend participating in writing critiques. It doesn’t have to be in a formal class – finding a good writer’s group online or through local meet-ups will be a start (email feedback/chat room discussions, etc.).
      Or you can create a group yourself from your own readership of writers – though I’d keep it small, so the writing feedback is not overshadowed by the socialization that come with large groups.

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