Insightments by Creative Life Coach Jude Spacks

November/December  2008

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In tight economic times, prioritize creating.
Creative practice antidotes fear
  through direct experience of the priceless freedom
to be and express your truest Self.
So there.

I feel very rich when I have time to write
and very poor when I get a regular paycheck
and no time to work at my real work.
 --Natalie Goldberg

What Should I Do?
Taking It and Dishing it Out

pointer finger

This! This Is What You Should Do


How does your work comes across to other people? Is it almost done?
Does that awkward place bother anyone but you? If you're in need of a
reality check or just a fresh perspective, your wise and courageous
Creative Guidance System might announce that it's time to get some

Great! A time honored part of the Process. Almost all writers give a
gush of gratitude in the acknowledgments for the sainted partner, friend
or editor who read every draft and "made this a much better book."

As Shirley Abbott says at the end of The Future of Love, "Sooner or later
a writer turns to friends and family. ('Tell me what you think. Pull no
punches. But don't hurt my feelings. And by next Monday.')"

Non writers, too, may need the helpful response of feedback. Seeing your
work through others' eyes can open you to a world of possibilities that you'd
miss on your own.

But feedback also means that ear piercing whine made by a microphone
picking up and magnifying sound from an amplifier--it can hurt! Unexamined
beliefs (about doing it right, seeking approval, etc.) and habits of self attack
can amplify the sound of feedback to a painful screech.

If you're very closely identified with your work, feedback can be like
hearing someone pick on your favorite child. While you're keeping
yourself from grabbing the offender by the throat, it might not be so
easy to open your ears and listen.

If you hear, "You are a dismal failure as a writer and a human being"
when your friend says, "I'm thinking this paragraph could be shorter,"
you'll likely miss the full benefits of your collaboration.

What Do You Say Now, Dear?

Feedback can be rough on the giver, too. A friend offers you their
precious creation to respond to; they swear they really want to know.
But what if you take a peek and reel back from the smell of rotten
eggs--what if it stinks?

If you Google constructive criticism, you'll find the repeated advice to
make a sandwich. Say something nice first--that's the bread. The filling
is made of mentioning what might could stand some trifling improvement.
Finish with another slice of nice.

You imagine trying to scrape together at least a couple crackers worth
of encouragement to make a rotten egg sandwich with, wondering if you'll
be walking on eggshells around your friend for the rest of your life.

red shoe eggshells

Jude Walking on Eggshells

First, Take It Personally

Whether you're giving or receiving criticism, it might help to warm up
before you go tippy-toeing through the eggshells. Like anything worthwhile,
feedback improves with practice.

Want to explore some wholesome criticism? If you'd like to experience this
exercise, please take a few minutes to write it down
--doing it in your head
won't work nearly as well, if at all.

1. Think of someone working in the same medium as yours who could
better. Write out your feedback for them in an uncensored way. Don't
bother to have a humble opinion, just an honest one. What should they do
differently? What, specifically, bugs you about their work? It doesn't
have to be a big deal. But don't hold back.

I suggest you don't read further until you've done this. Give it a whirl!

eggshells on top of  red shoes

Eggshells Walking On Jude

2. Now, very gently, reread what you wrote as if it were neutral,
factual commentary about your work, from someone who loves you
and deeply understands. Look for where it could be accurate.

3. To go deeper, write three concrete examples of how each criticism
applies to your work, and/or to some other area of your life--your
meditation practice, your gardening, your spending habits, whatever
comes to mind.

4. Next, look for ways that what each criticism points out about your
work actually (also) helps it. Something that seems like a problem
can turn out to be a strength in disguise.

(If in part 1. I wrote: They make everything so complicated, and in 2.
and 3. I've found specifically how I make things complicated, here in
I might notice: by making things complicated I invite people to look
more deeply, to understand a richer view and so on).

5. Finally, check out the opposite of each critical statement, and look
for where that's true about your work or your life, too. (I don't make
everything so complicated, or I make everything so simple). Find
examples. Receiving (and giving yourself) positive feedback can be
every bit as challenging as the apparently negative.

For Example

Say I think someone's article is repetitious. It says the same thing
over and over. How many ways can it say that same thing in one
paragraph? It gives example after example when I already got it. Don't
they have anything else to say? Do they think the reader is an idiot? I
can understand saying something twice to make sure it came across,
but this really belabors the point. Over and over, they just say the same
thing, sometimes in the very same words!

If I become quiet and receptive and look for where my criticism of them
is right for me, I usually don't have to look too far....

Play With It

You can play with this kind of exploration in many ways. When you
happen to overhear criticism of someone or something else, you might
check to see, with kind eyes, if it could be true about your work. Go
looking for it. The world tends to be generous with criticism. It might
be just what you need for a sticky spot in your work.

Those politicians all lie! Hmmm, yes, maybe I could be more direct
and honest in my piece. I'm being so political about how it might be
received that I've lost track of what I wanted to say. Brrrr, it's too
soon for it to be so cold out. Aha! The transition into the cooler colors
on the edge of my picture is way too abrupt, that's what's been
bothering me....

Before you ask for feedback and the influence that may come with it, you
can also take the direct approach, of writing out your own criticisms
for yourself. Put down whatever you're afraid someone else might think.
Look over what you've written as simply observations that may include
valuable guidance.


This kind of practice reminds us of our basic equality with a friend who
asked for or offered feedback. No one is the all-knowing expert on
someone else's work, and anyone can potentially be helpful.

If, before dishing out criticism, we've sampled the fare ourselves, it
nourishes our natural tact and courtesy. And if we've already gotten
the habit of taking in useful criticism, even in surprising forms, we'll be
more comfortable and curious about whatever our friend has to share.
Then the process becomes a fruitful, collaborative one, alive with

index finger pointing up

You Are So Right!

 More Pointers

Ask for what you want

If criticism is a sandwich, it's best  made to order.

"Only tell me about problems; I'm allergic to high-carb flattery."
"I don't know what I want yet, so give me whatever you've got."
"I'd like 100% lavish praise, please, as long as it's sincere."

The person serving may say, "Sorry, not on the menu--I am really only
good for nit picky trouble-shooting."

Specific questions directed to what you want to know can help focus
feedback and make it more useful. If possible, keep your questions
open-ended, to leave room for a view you hadn't already thought of.
Essay-type questions will probably get you more to work with than
yes/no or multiple choice.

Use Genuine 'I' Statements

Even if you're on fire with the conviction that your opinion is correct,
don't pretend to be a burning bush delivering the Objective Truth. It
will be easier to hear coming from an ordinary mortal.

"I thought..." "My response..." "To me...." "My feeling is...." These can
help remind both people that they can only offer their own experience
of a piece, which is all that is needed.

Don't Defend, Explain or Justify

If you start to feel defensive when receiving feedback, check in with
yourself about your motives. Are you still in it for the sake of bringing
out the best in your work, or are you after something else now?

It might be time to take a break, or to revise what you ask for."I could
use some reassurance that you get what I'm trying to do here."

If you find yourself explaining and justifying, you've stopped listening.
Since you already know whatever you're explaining, how can you
find out something new that way?

Sometimes it helps to stay busy taking notes on what your friend says;
you can sort through your reactions later.

You Can't Make Me

Your friend might have given you some brilliant suggestions. But
if you rush to slap their insights onto your piece, you might find
yourself disconnected from the process, trying to get it right in
someone else's eyes. Then it's easy to become bossy, demanding
and ultimately dissatisfied with your work.

Take some time to digest feedback and make it your own. Then
your next moves will evolve organically, from your own creative
spark that has brightened through contact with another.

Comment on this article in the blog

"Nobody says, Yeah, I'd like to set myself up for some serious criticism! And yet...the only way to be remarkable
is to do just that....We often respond to our aversion to criticism by hiding, avoiding the negative feedback, and
thus (ironically) guaranteeing that we won't succeed!

If the only way to cut through is to be remarkable,
and the only way to avoid criticism is to be boring
and safe, well, that's quite a choice, isn't it?

You do not equal the project. Criticism of the project
is not criticism of you....

It's people who have projects that are never criticized
who ultimately fail." --Seth Godin in Purple Cow

Hey Jude?
The creative process follows mysterious ways for us all.
I'd love to hear about your crossroads, conundrums and concerns.
your brilliant breakthroughs, your muses and your muddles.
Write me a note.
(I'll assume it's ok to quote
or paraphrase you unless you say it's not).

Hey Jude,

While  painting, I was hearing some rather unhelpful comments like,

That is stupid--do you even know what you are doing?
What about Intention--you have no clue.
Quit being so incoherent!
Where are you going with this?
You think you can show that!?

(Familiar to anyone?)

I realized that I have had a name for this voice for some time,
and that in fact, I have a personification in the flesh of this voice.

It is....

The Suspicious Chicken.

and here she is:

stuffed chicken on easle

I have had this thing in my studio for at least four years--
never realized that she was the source of critical commentary,
before today!

Maybe she's been squawking more lately because
I've been risking some new directions in my work. I'm
moving from an interest in powerline imagery to a much
more abstract response to the constructed nature of the
urban environment. Here's a couple examples:

B Miller painting of electric wires

Study for Queen and Walnut
  by Bonnie Miller
30 x 36 in acrylic on canvas 2007

B Miller abstract

Wires by Bonnie Miller
16 x 16 inches, acrylic and mixed media on canvas 2008

Anyway, I wish everyone good luck with any Suspicious Chickens
you find.

Bonnie Miller

Dear Bonnie,

Wow, that's quite a chicken! Maybe she actually broadcasts directly
to psyches in studios all around the world.

There might be a clue here
as to the source of eggshells for
walking on when giving feedback....

Thanks for sharing your discovery and your wonderful pictures.
And thanks for the inspirational courage to follow new directions
despite squawking.


Comment on this letter and/or
read other Hey Jude letters here.

luminous eggshells

To Make An Omelet You Have To Break A Few Eggs
acrylics and pearlescent pigments on board 8x11in, 08, Jude Spacks

Department of Recommendations

Decluttering 101 by Joanna Rueter gives a kind, effective method of
clearing clutter without overwhelm. Her Keep Test offers a very serviceable
way of deciding if something should stay or go; it might work for other
kinds of creative decision making, too, like making revisions.

Joanna's Keep Test

1. Do Iove this?
2. Do I use this?
3. Is this a treasure?

The little book takes you step-by-step though Joanna's method.
It has its own easel so it sits up and keeps you company as you
sort through your stuff. It's available, along with other pointers on
organizing, at

More coming soon to!

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