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November 10, 2014 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Brandon Rhodes is known for his excellent talks at Python conferences. At this year's PyGotham, he took the opportunity to discuss writing in general: How To Shut Down Tolkien. posted by ifandonlyif (12 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
This is an EXCELLENT talk, not at all specific to computer programming, which I can recommend to anyone interested in literature, criticism, and creative growth -- not to mention the story of how J. R. R. Tolkien changed from a shy linguist with a secret habit into a bestselling author.

I just spent 45 minutes listening and had a great time. Brandon Rhodes is an entertaining speaker, and the story of Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings turns out to have relevance to anyone trying to find their footing as a writer.

If you have a long trip ahead of you this evening, and are looking for a way to while away the time, download it.

Topics covered:
  • How to give constructive criticism with kindness and understanding.
  • The Audience, the Critic, and the Deadline.
  • Crossover fanfic!
  • What's really underneath the North Pole.
  • "With the sharpest possible instrument, a surgeon can do the least damage."
IF anyone else would like to listen to this one too, I think it would make for a good discussion.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 5:23 PM on November 10, 2014 [11 favorites]

What Harvey Kilobit said. This is considerably better than anything I'd expected and is all kinds of useful for reflection on any creative discipline or interpersonal communication where critical feedback is sometimes necessary.
posted by weston at 5:31 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ehh... it doesn't sound like he's supporting constructive criticism half as much as he does support being a loudmouth asshole to the detriment of everyone else present.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:03 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's a conclusion you could maybe take away halfway through the talk, but not one I think is supported by the end, where he's pretty straightforward about Dyson's opposition becoming a problem for Tolkien, and even Tolkien's criticism of Wardrobe becoming a problem for Lewis, and the fading of the Inklings... and with it, the creative output of Tolkien.
posted by weston at 6:18 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, sorry, I should watch it all the way through. That part really annoyed me though - it's been a long day - I regretted posting that almost the moment I hit send.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:26 PM on November 10, 2014

Anything that puts Python up on the front page is okay by me.
posted by JHarris at 6:51 PM on November 10, 2014

Really fantastic talk, I was intrigued by the title and wanted to get a sense of the context, I thought I would sit through a few minutes at most, but was immediately drawn in and watched the whole thing at once. Highly recommended!
posted by grog at 7:14 PM on November 10, 2014

MeFi's own Charlie Stross, in a foreword in one of his collections, talked about the dark side of having an Audience, a Critic and a Deadline. He was explaining why he continues to write short fiction: it's simply because the feedback loop is shorter than for a novel. "You're a great guy, Charlie! Here's a banana-flavored treat! Now, punch the button harder, monkey!" Feedback, particularly positive feedback, can be addictive. And oppositional criticism, as portrayed in this talk, can silence the creative urge.
posted by SPrintF at 8:20 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fantastic talk. A really interesting story and a great lesson about constructive criticism.

It's weird that there is so little focus on this in school. I suppose it's because everything needs to be objectively black and white for standardized testing purposes. Mark your answer, turn it in to the teacher... you either get it right or wrong, and the difference doesn't take any input from anybody but the author of the textbook. I wasn't exposed to the kind of peer review and critical thinking described in this talk until I studied graphic design in college, and what I learned there has turned out to be an invaluable skill in everyday communication. It's horrifying to enter a situation with someone who did not pick up this ability and see them blunder through a critique of someone else's work like they're stomping on sandcastles.

The best teacher I ever had could eviscerate your work with his words, but his cuts were so precise that when you looked at the strength of what was left, you felt more inspired and empowered than you had before he began. Someday I hope to be that helpful.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 8:30 PM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Shut him down like a failing department store. Shut him down like your PC in the early morning hours when you should really have been in bed several hours ago. Shut him down like a foreboding and secretive spaceship AI. Yeah, when it comes to Tolkien? You shut that motherfucker down like the US government when Congress is deadlocked over a controversial spending bill.

posted by Drexen at 3:58 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm one of the organizers of PyGotham, so I'm really glad to see this here on the Blue.

It was an amazing talk and Brandon is fantastic, funny, smart, and extremely kind man. As good as the talk is in the video, it was even better in person; he's a great presenter. We really hope to have him back next year. And if anyone reading this is interested in presenting next year, please submit a talk proposal when the time comes; we love and encourage new people getting involved.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:10 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I loved this. It's unfortunate that some will assume that it's only intended for programmers; it's 95% about writers, and has lessons for anyone seeking to create anything - a good complement to Darius Kazemi's talk linked here a while ago. Certainly makes me reflect on my own efforts to create stuff online, and how and why they've dwindled in recent years. It might even serve as a spur to do something about that.
posted by rory at 8:05 AM on November 11, 2014

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