This blog was inspired by two individuals frootbat 31 and J. Timothy King and their recent posts on feedback. I thought the topic intriguing and something I happen to have very strong feelings about, because of the power that feedback has given me to become the writer I am today.
It is interesting to see the variety of opinions that exist over such a topic as supplying feedback to fellow writer's. I never truly realized the great contention that seems to stem from this particular subject, which I always considered a boon to help writer's reach a different level of understanding with their own craft, though, it seems that others mark critiques as a creature bloated with personal attacks, and still others consider the art of critique a matter solely focused on the negative. This is a blog to dive into the topic of feedback and my belief that getting constructive feedback on your work can help you find true understanding of your own work if you are willing to listen.
1. Get a fresh perspective on your writing
I don't know about you, but when writing on a story over and over again there comes a time when you just can't see the forest because of all the trees. After a time of laboring over your love, it's easy to become blinded by biased opinion and a tendency to read over mistakes that others will pick up almost immediately, so having another pair of eyes to catch those mistakes are a must if you want to become a published author and an unbiased opinion will be elemental to giving you a clearer view of your story. If you can't get others to understand what your story is about then you obviously have a problem that needs to be fixed. With that said, however, you shouldn't feel compelled to take all advice given to you. Some individuals may not like or understand your story because everyone is different and has separate tastes. But if multiple people are telling you the same thing about your story, or writing in general, then it might be a good idea to listen up.
2. Feedback must be offered as a means to help the writer improve their writing.
Call me an idealist if you want, but I am of the full belief that feedback does help people become a better writer. The key is to be open to what individuals have to say about your writing and be willing to see things from a different perspective. I will say this again, because it is important. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE THE ADVICE GIVEN TO YOU. You can simply chose to ignore advice that you feel doesn't fit or is inappropriate. It's is vital that you you are true to yourself and your words, so that will mean ignoring what some people have to say. Feedback is essential to getting out of your own head and seeing things for how they really are, because if we rely solely on ourselves we are in danger of failing into the pit of stale writing.
3. Sandwich your feedback with the good and the bad.
I recently read a critique on a fellow writer's short story and was quite frankly appalled by it. It focused solely on the mistakes of the story and had no positive feedback whatsoever. It also had no overall impressions of the story. I am of the firm belief that to give a writer a full spectrum of your thoughts and feelings for their story is the best way to go and the most helpful. You aren't doing the writer any favors by not being honest with them. That person may not like what you have to say in the short run, but if a nerve was hit then chances are they were feeling uneasy about that particular spot anyways. Also if they really want to be the best at their craft, they will respect those who have the courage to speak their minds and tell them the truth. But it is also important to remember that writer's are delicate flowers, some more than others. It would be a terrible thing to destroy a flower by hurtful comments. Granted if you can't stand the heat then you should get out of the kitchen, but a good critique should be encouraging as well as blunt. The yin and yang of information should create a balance that is helpful and enlightening, not destructive.
4. Be mindful of who you allow access to your work.
Not everyone is going to like everything you like, in fact I guarantee it. Simply, because we all are different and have different tastes. We each have a unique access to the imagination and each person's interpretation of that imagination will be different. There are also individuals who love specific genres, so they may not be as open or as understanding with the genre that you write, which means they may not be helpful with the over all picture or feel of your story. However, they should still know the basics of how to write and will still be helpful catching your spelling and grammar mistakes.
5. Find people who are good at critiques
I will add a fifth section to say that that it's all in who reads your story. I know this was touched upon in section four, but this is a separate distinct thing that I am talking about. I am talking about getting the opinions of those you value, because quite frankly not everyone can write a good critique. I have fortunately been blessed with a multitude of individuals I can rely on to get solid information back about my work. They also are a wonderful support system who are constantly encouraging me to be better at my craft. You should find people who's opinions you value and stick with them, because they will be instrumental in moving you forward on your journey of writing. I know from experience that without this brutal, but helpful guidance that I would not be even half the writer I am today without them.
6. Giving feedback helps YOU be a better writer
It's so much easier to see the mistakes that others make than our own. If you take the time to offer your services to critique, you will be doing yourself a big favor. In the process of looking over another person's story, you may find that they have similar weak points as you. It's easier to know how to fix others problems, so when you help someone fix their problems you are finding a way to fix your own at the same time. It's those "aha" moments that are invaluable to learning to be a better writer. You can also learn from a person's strengths. It's the same reason why writer's are encouraged to read. You read to learn how to be a better writer. You learn from good writing and bad writing, so why pass up the chance to help a fellow writer out? You are not only helping them, but yourself as well. It's a win, win situation.
There are numerous reasons why people decide to write and numerous reasons people reach out to others for advice about their work, but if we forget what is truly important- as someone who critiques, or someone who receives critiques- then we have lost the battle. Yes, getting feedback is a double-edged sword that can cut deep at times, but if we are willing to read between the lines and appreciate the time spent out of busy lives to give feedback, it will be well worth the pain. It all boils down to how thick your skin is and if you are willing to be brave enough to hear what others have to say. And for those who give feedback... are you willing to speak your mind and truly help your fellow writer to be better? Just remember this the next time you critique someone's work... what kind of critique would you like to receive? You'd be surprised at how your perception changes when you put yourself in another person's shoes for a moment.