Feedback is a tricky thing. As writers, we request it, sometimes plead for it, even demand it! And yet…we may not be able to receive it. Oh, we don’t have any problem hearing the positive feedback, that’s cool. Who hasn’t basked in the praise given by an enthusiastic reader? But the negative feedback, that’s a little tougher to take.
When someone offers feedback on our work, we may get defensive. Who do they think they are, telling me my character is two-dimensional? I’d like to see them try to write a monk turned drag queen turned amateur sleuth mystery!
It all depends on what we make that criticism mean. If someone gives you feedback on how to make your character three-dimensional, you can make that mean I’m not perfect, which is a huge leap from your character seems two-dimensional, but we do it all the time.
When we get defensive, we miss the value of the feedback. Just because someone says it doesn’t mean it’s true—but, it could be.
Because, when we ask for feedback, we are not asking, “Is my writing perfect?” We are asking, “How can I make my writing better?”
When receiving feedback, consider the following two questions:
1. Is the feedback addressing the writing or the writer? I once read a piece about my sister and the time she hit me with a bag of frozen French fries to my memoir critique group. As feedback, one woman told me I was “giving my power away” to my sister. Since I was writing about a time when we were both children, I did not find this insight particularly helpful.
Bottom line: If the critique addresses you, the writer, rather than the writing, ignore it.
2. Is the person giving able to give you the feedback you ask for? I recently asked some friends to provide me with “big picture” feedback on a piece. I explained that I wanted to make sure there weren’t any places in the story where the reader came out of the story due to some missed detail. Even one reader’s response of “Nope, didn’t happen,” was helpful.
Bottom line: Consider carefully whom you ask to give you feedback and be specific about the feedback you are asking for.
Feedback is a wonderful tool, but it’s only a tool. It’s up to us to use all the tools available to us to make our writing the best it can be. In the end, we have to make the final decision about what works for us as writers.
How do you ask for feedback?
Diane MacKinnon, MD, is currently a full-time mother, part-time life coach. She is a Master Certified Life Coach, trained by Martha Beck, among others. She is passionate about her son, her writing and using her mind to create a wonderful present moment. Find her life coaching blog at http://www.dianemackinnon.com/blog.