When I write, because I can get too invested in a draft, I often have a different idea about what is happening on the page than what is ACTUALLY happening on the page. Occasionally I take my own advice and set a story aside. Then, after weeks, perhaps months, I revisit a piece and all kinds of glaringly obvious issues. This is one step of the writing process, and it’s a skill a writer has to learn. But at some point, a writer needs feedback from others, and this is another skill a writer must learn to handle.
The benefit of feedback from people who have no emotional attachment to a story is that their distance allows them to react impartially. In theory this allows them to offer direct feedback on what is working and what isn’t. Usually, this advice is given with the story’s best interest in mind. Yet some people who like you might prefer to praise (because they know how hard writing can be). Perhaps they see this as encouragement, but if you’re not saying a story is in bad shape when it is, you’re not helping the author.
An honest, brutal critique can be hard to take, especially if I think a story is in better shape than it is. And because my mind is prejudiced towards the advice that’s kind rather than harsh—the kind that means I have less work to do—I have to remind myself who I should really be listening to. Basically, a writer needs to find a reliable set of opinions, from people who can be trusted to be honest.
Being able to revisit some of the events from 1 and 2 Kings and in 1 and 2 Chronicles shows how writers aren’t the only ones who need good, honest feedback. And the way kings tended to receive this input speaks to how well they ruled. In particular, take King Ahab’s interaction with the prophet Micaiah.
Israel’s king Ahab—even though he’s an evil king with whom Judah has a strained relationship—manages to enlist the help (though provisional) of Judah’s king Jehoshaphat. Ahab wants war with a common enemy (18:3). Jehoshaphat is on board, although he wants God’s input. So Ahab rallies 400 local prophets, all of whom say yes, God says go to war. Jehoshaphat is unmoved, for none seem devoted to God; isn’t there an actual priest of God, he wonders?
Turns out there is, though Ahab has all but banished him because he didn’t like what he EVER had to say—turns out Micaiah only had bad visions for Ahab (18:7). So they send for Micaiah and ask his advice. He parrots the other priests. But when challenged, he conveys a dire vision of Israel’s future. So instead of heeding the advice he should, Ahab imprisons Micaiah (18:26).
Sometimes the best lesson is conveyed by watching other people do what you do. Though on a different scale, Micaiah’s experience is similar to what people in writing workshops often deal with. And how he is received doesn’t just demonstrate how writers react when they receive unfavorable (though necessary) input. Sometimes the truth hurts, but only if you are too rigid to not want to change. If your goal is to create the best situation possible (be it a work of art, a work environment, a happy home life), you should welcome a different point of view, understanding how nothing is ever perfect, and even less so when it only relies on one person’s way of looking at things.
In the end, wisdom doesn’t mean knowing everything; rather, being wise means knowing when to speak, when to listen, and what to do with the information you are given. Too bad king Ahab (and so many other rulers in the Old Testament) never learns this lesson.