Free Your Pen · Writing

Buddhist Writing Prompt: Don’t Criticize

Don’t criticise is about not criticising others in order to feel better about yourself. Accept people as they are, warts and all, and remember that you’re not perfect either.

The original lojong slogan is: Don’t talk about injured limbs which asks you to notice those moments when you subtly, or not so subtly, judge others and reject them, and to recognise it as an opportunity to practice compassion. It also applies to moments when you’re irritated by somebody else’s behaviour, perhaps because they’ve let you down or hurt you in some way.

This doesn’t mean you put up with bad behaviour or avoid challenging somebody who is being abusive or difficult. But there are ways of doing this without being hurtful. When somebody behaves badly it’s usually because they’re suffering, and criticism will just make the situation worse.

There’s a story behind every slip of the tongue, every mistake, every failure. Nobody is perfect and everybody is doing the best they can under the circumstances. This slogan is encouraging you to accept others as they are, just as you would like people to accept you as you are.

Apply this slogan to your writing practice by remembering not to criticise yourself in a way that is harsh or destructive. It doesn’t mean you should avoid critiquing your work or tell yourself that every word you write is pure gold. It’s just a reminder to be constructive.

Another way to work with this slogan is look at your characters. There may be certain weaknesses that you don’t like in yourself or in others, but giving those flaws to your characters will make them more rounded. It’s the fatal flaw, the insecurities, failure, and weaknesses, that make a character interesting and ultimately drives the story.

Every flaw has a back story. People are the way they are for a reason. Noticing their flaws and embracing them with compassion can make for better storytelling. And the same applies to you and your flaws.

Your writing prompt this weekend: What are your flaws and weaknesses? Make a list in your slogan journal. Now take one of your flaws and tell its story. Don’t criticise yourself, but write with compassion and understanding.

More in the book: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers
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5 thoughts on “Buddhist Writing Prompt: Don’t Criticize

  1. Hey Jess, have you read any of Kazuo Ishiguro’s stuff?

    I’ve been sitting on a stack of his novels for about five years but hadn’t got around to them until last week. I knew from his reputation that I should like them but the extracts from The Remains of the Day(ROTD) I heard on radio and the summaries of Never Let Me Go(NLMG) I read on the internet left me cold. It seemed to me that getting through one of his books was likely to be an unrewarding chore. But when I started I couldn’t stop. I went on a four day binge, devouring The Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World and Never Let Me Go in short order.

    I can think of plenty of criticisms of his work. Prose that’s either stilted and verbose (ROTD) or puerile (NLMG). Characters that are uninteresting caricatures it’s impossible to identify with. Plots that go nowhere (ROTD) or seem contrived, unlikely and lacking in technical, social and psychological credibility (NLMG). In short I could write truthful, accurate criticisms that would leave the impression that his work was irredeemable. But they would be utterly misleading.

    Strangely, the book most resistant to deconstruction and demolition – An Artist of the Floating World – was probably the weakest of the three. It was only superb. The other two were jaw-droppingly awesome in a way I’m still unable to articulate. I’ve haven’t experienced such a visceral impact from fiction since I discovered Kafka almost forty years ago. And though I could sense there was more going on than I was consciously aware of it wasn’t until the last page that they really hit home, especially NLMG.

    I have no idea how he does it. I can only theorise the stories carry a profound message that I only understand at an unconscious level. Ishiguro seems to have conveyed something non-verbal with a mass of apparently poorly – albeit carefully – selected words. I can see something similar in Kafka but I guess I have the advantage of growing up in a society that had half a century to absorb Kafka before I saw one of his stories. Ishiguro’s stuff seems to come from another planet.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you can only criticise something by pulling it apart. Especially by pulling it apart from you. When you do that you’re no longer talking about about the thing you’re presuming to criticise. You’re talking about the mess you’ve made of it. You’re talking about yourself. From some sort of imaginary viewpoint outside of your experience. I could call that silly and pointless but only by engaging in precisely the same silly and pointless exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only read Never Let Me Go and I had the same experience as you describe. All the way through the book I thought I wasn’t enjoying it, I couldn’t get into it, and then it hit me right at the end. He’s a clever bugger! I’ve no idea how he does it either. I need to read the rest of his books…

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      1. Yeah. If I’d quit Never Let Me Go halfway through I probably could have dismissed it as something that should have been called Kathy’s School Days. The characters could have walked straight out of a teen soap opera and the focus on petty schoolyard politics is something I even considered beneath me when I was at school.

        Yet I somehow knew to not quit. There was something stirring under the surface. But it still took me completely by surprise when it hit. It’s like some kind of magic.

        It’s not without parallel. There’s music that has a similar effect on me. I don’t expect to have to understand music to be moved by it and some of my favourite songs are very easy to pull apart and criticise. Sure was a surprise to get that from a novel though.

        Liked by 1 person

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