“Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” says Charlan Nemeth. “It wakes us right up.”

The single best part of running this blog is the amazing community that has sprung up. One reader recently told me, “I have to say your blog is the bomb. It's got the best, most lively and connected community.” I couldn't agree more. Our Practitioners are the coolest blog readers on the Internet.

Creatives Need Criticism

Photo by Jonathan Mueller

We tend to be some of the nicest, too. I love seeing all the nice comments after someone's practice, “This was so great! I loved it. Thanks for sharing this with us! Yada yada yada.” Overall, we're a very encouraging group, and I love that about us.

However, I recently read some research that has me questioning our niceness and asking some tough questions:

  • Does encouragement make you a better writer? 
  • Will being nice help us improve as a community?
  • Do we need to be more critical of each other's work?

Brainstorming versus Debate

In 2003, a psychology researcher named Charlan Nemeth did a study comparing the effectiveness of brainstorming to debate. The results were shocking. Debate, dissent, and criticism, it seemed, produced far more ideas and far better ideas than traditional brainstorming. Nemeth says:

While the instruction ‘Do not criticize’ is often cited as the important instruction in brainstorming, this appears to be a counterproductive strategy. Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.

Debate, dissent, and criticism might not be as nice as encouragement, especially for us sensitive writers, but it will make us more focused on our work, more invigorated by our ideas and the ideas of others, and, in the end, much better writers.

Can We Encourage and Criticize At the Same Time?

Today, in our practice, we're going to try something new, and it's not going to be easy. We're going to intentionally practice encouraging and criticizing at the same time. We can still be a nice community, one that is warm and welcoming, that encourages each other to sit down and do the hard work of writing, work that is often difficult enough without criticism.

However, we're also going to practice being a community that cares so much about helping each other succeed we're willing to debate it out with each other. (By the way, I think I like the word debate more than criticize. Doesn't it sound nicer?)

So yes, I think we can be nice and dissenting at the same time. In fact, providing good dissent might be the nicest thing you could do for a fellow writer.


Prompt: A young man and a young woman are fighting. What are they fighting about?

Write for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section.

After you post, practice encouraging debate with at least three other Practitioners:

  1. Give ONE piece of positive feedback
  2. Give ONE piece of negative feedback

And if this scares you a bit, just remember this is scientifically proven to make you a better writer. It's either this or a dozen or more rejection letters!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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