This past semester I had the opportunity to take a creative writing class at my community college. There were about 15 people in the class, and over the course of the semester we read short stories from authors including Ernest Hemingway or poems from poets including Emily Dickinson.
Of course, it was a creative writing class, so we had to do some creative writing of our own, and a major part of that was getting into groups for feedback. That was probably the most useful part of the class, and it was certainly the part where I learned the most.
That being said, I have to say that it wasn't an exceptionally pleasant experience all the time. I don't think I will ever get to the point where I am excited to hand out something that I worked hard on and then just sit there silently as others read through it, wondering what they think about it. In a way, that's where I got the most out of the class, learning how to take feedback and deciding on whether or not to follow advice or stick with the way I had it.
At times, it could feel personal when I would put a story or a poem out there and receive feedback about all sorts of things that I should change or cut. Not to say that these critiques are meant to be especially harsh, really they are just pointing out a flaw for it to be fixed, or giving an idea on how to make something better.
But it took a while before I could really separate what they were saying about my individual pieces of writing from my ability to write in general. A person saying, "This story needs work" is very different from a person saying "You're a terrible writer," and being able to differentiate between the two is an important part of being able to accept advice and learning how to respond to feedback.
The group discussion didn't just help me learn how to accept feedback and advice, it also helped me learn how to give feedback and advice. Sometimes people would bring in pieces that seemed more or less finished. In saying that, I don't mean that there was a beginning, middle, and end. I more so mean that they were polished. They were finished, had no technical errors that I could see, and in general had nothing that really needed to be said other than a general "Good job."
Other times what people brought in would be far less finished. Sometimes there would be words consistently misspelled, bizarre formatting, or just clumsy wording. One time someone brought in a two-page story with the font scaled down to half its normal size because the assignment called for a one-page story.
These stories needed the feedback more than the perfectly polished ones, but same time it was usually more difficult to give it to them. On the one hand, I wanted to just go line by line and point out the things that I would change, but at the same time it would be so unbelievably discouraging to bring in a story that you were proud of only to have it ripped apart like that. I learned quickly that I needed to comment on the stuff that worked just as much as the stuff that didn't.
The class wasn't perfect. There were definitely moments of drama when people thought that their pieces were getting criticism that they didn't deserve, but as a whole it was a fantastic experience and I wish I could go through it all again.