Many years ago, in the middle of a very intense consulting project, I decided that I needed to do something for myself. On a lark, I signed up for a day-long acting workshop with Anthony Vincent Bova who teaches the Eric Morris method of acting. I had no idea what I was getting into.
I got to the room on a Saturday morning. The participants were mostly women but there were three men, all over six feet tall. The day started off with some breathing exercises on the floor. Odd vocalizations. Maybe some rolling around, too? I’m game for strange things, and grew up dancing, but I remember feeling a bit out of my element. Once we were warmed up, the individual exercises started. Anthony chose an actor, the person went to the front of the group, and Anthony gave them something to do. The goal of the work was to shift the actor into a different emotional state that then they could use for a character. It could be anything like cluck like a chicken, shout out loud everything you love, or reveal in detail your most shameful experience, holding nothing back.
Yes, I was getting scared for my turn.
But then, of course, as these things go, my turn arrived. Anthony must have talked to me for a few minutes—the recollection of that part is vague. Then he gave me my exercise. This part is not vague. This part is branded, burned, gouged, carved, and tattooed on my brain. He asked for help from the three male actors in the room. The guys, remember, who were all over six feet tall. For the record, I am five feet and two inches (barely) tall. Here was the exercise: Guys, crowd into her space. Come at her. Threaten her.
Even the set-up started a reaction in me. My breath quickened. I started to lose feeling in my hands. I probably lasted about thirty seconds with those guys looming at me before I was triggered. Triggered so hard, I was crying and shaking. I scooped up my things, said, “I don’t need this,” and beelined for the door.
Anthony called out, “Christine, please stay.”
I froze in the doorway. Couldn’t even look back at him. I so wanted to flee, but some other part of me didn’t want to be a quitter.
“You don’t have to do that anymore,” he said. “You can just watch.”
Something in the way Anthony said those words . . . I trusted him, even though I really didn’t know him from boo.
I came back to the group and sat, out of the worst panic but still on edge. I remember gripping my bag in front of me like a shield. I watched others work. My breathing returned to normal. And then this weird calm settled over me. I say weird calm, because it wasn’t a calm like peace and love, it was a vibrating calm, and something welled up inside me—newsflash: it was courage but at the time I would have called it insanity.
An actor finished his turn, Anthony started to call on someone else, but I popped off the floor and declared, “I want to do it again.”
Anthony went with it. I got back in front of the group. Anthony called those poor men up again, who—to their credit—looked pretty torn up about having to purposely upset me again. He gave the same direction—menace her—and then we were at it. It was the craziest thing ever. I felt the fear churning, the panic rising, the disassociation flatlining me, but then something cut through me clear and strong, and I’m pretty sure I spontaneously grew to Amazonian heights, and then a Voice inhabited my whole being and said, “STOP!”
They stopped. Hoo boy, did those men stop. I might have stopped an entire army of bona fide thugs with the power, confidence, and badass energy coursing through me. That particular exercise gave me some of the most crystalline, experiential lessons of my life: That I can be strong even when I am seriously, seriously scared. That I have reserves in me I had no idea I had. That I have the power to change my state of mind, and that there are exercises to help me do that.
Why am I telling you this story?
Because my most recent post was about tips and recommendations on giving more effective critiques. Today I wanted to get real. Not everyone is going to agree with me on those points. There are folks out there who think it is their job to be harsh. To set a writer straight. In one critique session, I witnessed a critiquer say after tearing into writer’s submission, “Hope I didn’t ruin your dream, but I’ve been given really tough feedback from agents and editors, and that helped me so that’s why I said this stuff to you.” Uhm, okay.
Even if critiquers do not have a harsh-is-good framework, they may say something that hits you wrong, or say something inadvertently boneheaded, or whatever. The reality is getting critiqued is not always going to be a safe space. At times it may even feel actively antagonistic. So what can we do?
First, let’s all please, please, dispel any notion that we will come through this unscathed because at some magical point in the future (possibly after reading this blog) critiquers en masse will change their behavior, and forevermore wherever we go we will receive Kumbaya critiques filled with Love and Light. Not gonna happen.
I could write blogs every minute of every day for the next millennium, providing science-based research on why kindness and strengths-based critiquing is more effective, and there would still be doubters. (Which, as ridiculous as it sounds, I think is wonderful—how dull would the world be if we all thought alike.) Bottomline, it is pointless to waste our energy on the notion that we can force someone else to change. That is pure fiction.
To minimize our scathes, we must focus where we actually have agency. Ourselves.
Our states of mind. Our self-esteem. Our confidence. Our mental and emotional preparations going into a critique. Our willingness to be fully responsible for our own vulnerability. And our ability to reflect and a reset when we get triggered.
Let’s not give any of that power away to anyone else. Let’s find those reserves inside us, just like I did that day in acting class.
I’m definitely passionate about providing data and perspectives to writers to help them increase their critique-giving effectiveness. No doubt. But what really lights me up is helping writers stay centered and in creative productivity no matter what is landed in a critique, or said in a rejection letter, or piled on from the world at large or even from our own Inner Critics.
I certainly can’t promise anyone writing success in form of a publishing deal (I can’t even guarantee one of those for myself), but I do hope I might provide assists that increase the likelihood that writers might get a publishing deal by helping writers keep on writing—in confidence and joy.
With that intention in mind, here is the first assignment for you. Please note: For this to have an effect, you actually have to do the exercise. Not just think about doing the exercise. That would be like thinking about writing a novel.
The Let Your Past Power Moves Rock Your Present Exercise
(adapted from exercises by Tony Robbins, Dean Graziosi, and Noah St. John)
- Put on some inspiring instrumental music. Spotify and Apple music are great for this kind of thing – i.e., preset playlists. Just search. Note: Music is a major state changer so don’t skip this step.
- Set a timer for ten minutes.
- Without pausing, write every instance you can think of when you were scared and did something anyway; when you had doubts but conquered; when you figured out something that seemed really complex; or you achieved something that initially felt impossible, etc. I don’t care if it is big or small, and it doesn’t have to do with writing.
- When the ten minutes is up, reset the timer for five minutes and journal on what happened to you internally as a result of doing this exercise. Do you feel differently? In what way? In considering how you are feeling now, would you be more or less confident going into a critique session? (Or tacking a revision? Or sitting down to write? Or dealing with something that is currently blocking you from writing?)
- Finally, if this exercise changed your emotional state in a positive direction, ask yourself: Why is it so easy for me to do an exercise like this to improve my state the next time I go into a critique? And see what answers come up in the moment and in the coming days. (We’ll talk more about the set-up of that question in a future post.)
There you have it. You have started building your state management muscle. Woohooo for you!
Be on the lookout. The next few posts will share more techniques for building/regaining confidence, maintaining flow, and basically being mavens of our mindsets. Because, heck yes, we’ve got this!
Onward in kindness,
Christine Carron, The Critique MD
Look for news coming soon about The Critique MD’s first live webinar course:
A Whole-Brain Approach to Giving and Receiving Critiques.