Glynn Washington tells stories on the weekly National Public Radio show, Snap Judgment. Besides being an early riser and listening to audio books, Glynn is a writer and likes to solve creative problems in the morning. “When writing, I need something approaching silence,” says Glynn. He wears noise-cancelling earphones with another set of headphones over top. When it’s time to open his work to criticism, Glynn is careful who he turns to. “A lot of times, a writer looking for feedback will pass something around to friends, but they don’t really understand what the person is trying to do,” he says. “I have Mark Ristich, the co-executive producer of my show, and he can say, ‘This sucks, kill it.’ We fight a lot. But I know he gets my overall thing, and that saves me from losing time listening to dozens of people.”
Glynn is right about not gathering opinions from unqualified sources. Even in feedback environments like school and boardrooms, the most skilled group can mash potential revolutions into practical acts of mediocrity. In crits, it’s best to avoid the words “like” and “interesting.” “I like…” castrates constructive insight into pointless, subjective praise. Worse, “interesting” is a word used by people who don’t understand what you’re doing, to sound like they understand what you’re doing. “Interesting” often doesn’t mean interesting, and art doesn’t need more of that.
Even the committee-phobic may suffer at times from consensus taking. Instead, narrow down the number of people working at your thing. If you must be more than a party of one, trust in a fellow traveller. “It’s really hard to find that one person,” says Glynn. “I met Mark 15 years ago at a party, and we didn’t like each other. But over time, we’ve come to be like brothers… who fight a lot.” When looking for another set of eyes, or ears, when listening to another voice, you’re giving credence to another creative force. In using a sounding board, you engage a dream keeper — choose your collaborator with care. Trust in a qualified mind you respect, with skills you admire, for you share more than your unfinished ideas. This special someone needs to believe in your infinite potential — to work you infinitely. Are you listening?
PS: “Better to be criticized by a wise man than praised by a fool.” (Ecclesiastes)
“It often takes two to do a good painting – one to paint it, and another to rap the painter smartly with a hammer before he or she can ruin it.” (Richard Schmid)
“Be your own worst critic.” (Paul Arden)
Esoterica: At the age of 40, Glynn Washington won the Public Radio Talent Quest with a demo recording of fast-paced storytelling and music. He then created Snap Judgment — which began airing in July, 2010 — thirteen years after the moment he first heard his hero Ira Glass on This American Life. Glynn was driving out of Ann Arbor with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, on a relationship-saving road trip from Michigan to Canada. “Turn this noise off right away!” she said. With that, he snap-judged: “Stop the car.” On storytelling, Glynn says, “Go somewhere. Do something. If you don’t have a life, how are you going to tell a story about one?”
Featured Workshop: Mel Stabin