By Tarun Chandy
Room for Improvement
As creatives, we all love the Eureka moment. The moment you have an idea that excites you so much you feel genuinely amazed by your own brilliance. You feel powerful and superior, and all the insecurity that you’re so used to dwelling in seems to vanish for a while. The only thing that tops that moment is when you present it to someone whose opinion you value and you can see in their eyes that they are just as excited about the idea are as you are. It connects you with them in a weird way, giving you an unparalleled sense of validation, because you know that they have just seen you as your best possible self and they admire you for it.
I don’t normally tell people this because it makes me seem immature, but when I introspect deeply enough, I feel pretty certain that it was that very feeling that made me want to be a writer in the first place. Every time I wrote anything right through school, people always looked so impressed by me. It wasn’t a feeling I got very often in other aspects of my life, and I relished it when it came my way. So I found myself in a Creative Writing program at a college where people took a far more abstract approach to creativity than we do, here at SCA. A college where we were constantly reminded of the subjectivity in art. Where people searched for reasons to compliment each others work and avoided substantial criticism like the plague. And I spent three years letting all their empty praise go straight to my head, feeling almost like I could do no wrong because no one ever pointed out when I did.
Then, about two months before I was set to graduate, I met a girl. She was creative and intelligent, and in my effort to impress her I decided to email her a chapter from the novel I was working on, to ask her opinion. I’d shown that very chapter to two professors and about twenty students and gotten nothing but glowing reviews, and this girl read through it carefully and tore it to shreds piece by piece. By the next morning, she had pointed out more than fifty places where there was room for improvement. And funnily enough, once I got over the unexpected blow to my self esteem, I found that, for the most part, I agreed with her. Shortly after, I found that I’d fallen in love with her. And my book was considerably improved by her presence in my life.
My favorite part of SCA is that it is full of people like her. People who make each other better by searching for reasons to push back. What I’ve realized over the last week especially, is that receiving criticism isn’t always about understanding what direction you should be going in instead. It’s difficult for anyone, be it your peers or your mentors, to tell you what is objectively the right way to handle an idea. But as long as your idea still leaves room for someone to push back against, it means there’s room for improvement. And at SCA, we don’t settle for good. I imagine that I, along with most other people, still always hope that any idea we present will be met with applause and commendation. But years from now, we probably won’t remember any of the compliments our ideas received. It’ll be all the things we did wrong that we’ll never forget.