Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Behind the Books: The Duct Tape Rule

One of the most important steps of my writing process is sharing my rough draft with my critique group. We meet twice a month at a library near my home.

Many students have a similar step in their writing process. Some schools call it peer review. Others call it buddy editing. Some schools don’t really have a specific name for this step. Students just know they’re supposed to swap their paper with a classmate when they’re ready for feedback.

But let’s face it. Getting feedback isn’t always easy. We work long and hard on our drafts. We make them as good as they can possibly be, and sometimes we think they may not need much revision at all. It’s human nature.

And that’s why when we do get feedback—sometimes significant feedback—it can be hard to take. We might feel like we’re being attacked and be tempted to defend our choices. But that would be a mistake because the more we talk, the less we hear.

Let me say that again, this time in the second person, because it’s really important: The more you talk, the less you hear.

And that’s why, when it’s my turn to receive feedback, I pretend that I have a big piece of duct tape over my mouth. That’s right, I implement “The Duct Tape Rule.” It helps me remember that my job is to be open to criticism.

I need to listen carefully to what my critique teammates are saying. If I don’t agree, I keep my doubts to myself. I scrawl down all their ideas as fast as I can.

Later, when I look back at those notes, I can decide how to proceed. I can decide which suggestions feel right to me and which to let go. But if I haven’t listened carefully to the ideas, if I haven’t written them down, they will be lost forever, and they can’t possibly help me improve my writing.

As I’m sitting quietly at my computer, days or weeks after the critique, I’m grateful for those notes. I’m grateful for those ideas because most of the time they do help. A lot. And that’s why an imaginary roll of duct tape will always be in my writer’s toolbox.


  1. It's a good rule for parenting a teen too. I should literally do it, but at least I'm conscious of it ;)

  2. Completely true and helpful advice at all levels of writing. I like to audiotape the comments too if possible because it's hard to write and listen 100%.