All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Best Kind of Feedback

When I started my journey into writing, I made some smart moves and some big mistakes. In some cases the smart moves led to big mistakes, and big mistakes always led to smarter moves later. However, the one thing I constantly remind myself about is just what I need for feedback. Not what I want, but what I need. This is not as easy as it might sound, and furthermore, it's never one consistent answer.

The first extended piece I ever wrote (like 20,000 words) was my big, daring leap into the unknown. For all that I had hoped it to be, I had every fear that it was a miserable failure. I finally decided to get some feedback about the piece, so I handed it to a then-colleague who enjoyed fiction-fantasy (the genre I wrote at the time), and asked her to read it. Since we shared an office, it was a big ask, but I respected her opinion on many things and knew she would be very straight-forward with her feedback. She read it during lunch at her desk, and when I interrupted her reading for a work matter, she gave me the best feedback I could ever ask for.

She said, "Shush!" and waved me away from her desk.

Now, there was a lot of technical critique I would later receive - abusing the passive voice, a clunky, boring beginning, etc. - but the best feedback I received was the simple fact that she was into the story enough to not want to be disturbed. All of the mistakes I had made and stylistic errors I had used - and there were many - could be fixed. What I took from that "shush" was that something in there was worth reading. At that time, that was the feedback I needed.

As I continued writing and joined various writing groups, people gave me all kinds of feedback for my works. However, I began to notice that some of it wasn't very beneficial, and some was actually useless. I would write a piece about some traumatizing childhood event, and people would point out how it reminded them of their own childhood event, or they would say how they would have written about a different event, or preferred a happier ending. This kind of feedback confused me at the time, but as I continued, I realized some people don't want to give you feedback, they want to tell you about their reaction. This can be helpful for a bit - if you write a funny piece and they tell you they laughed, well, score a point for you. However, some feedback is little more than other people discussing how they would've written the piece. Don't take this for more than face value - people talking about something they read. Take what you wish from it and move on.

And on the flipside of the discussion, here is the best kind of feedback you can offer. After you read a piece, discuss the piece in the form of an interview. "Did you intend for the main character to come off as a good or bad person?" "Do you want the reader to think this really happened?" "Do you feel the story could go deeper into the subject?" Get the author to think about their process, what they wrote, and anything they might want to play with. Some authors just want reaction, and that's fine. However, if they are looking to improve their piece, get them to think more about it from the reader's perspective, and dig into the words. That's when they'll start to grow as writers.

It's been twenty years since my colleague and now friend shushed me away, and the feedback I need is different. Now I benefit from presenting questions to workshop participants before I start reading. "Let me know if this engages you," "Tell me what stands out about the main character," "Tell me what you took away from this character's journey." This guides the readers to think about whatever subject you want to target, and with any luck, they will offer feedback. And hopefully, it will be as helpful as it was for me to get shushed.       

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