Unfortunately, the desire to write is more fragile than the desire by family, friends, and well-intentioned others to prematurely extinguish it. All too often a young writer’s dreams have been quashed by a single inept remark.Sher points out that for feedback to be effective, there are 3 requirements:
When it comes to feedback, why not treat yourself as you would a new piece of fine lingerie? At first you might wash it by hand or else on a machine’s gentlest cycle with the mildest detergent. You might simply let your garment soak, not agitate it at all. Later, when you’ve experimented a few times and you know exactly what it can handle, you might try tumbling it around. Eventually you might throw it in with the rest of your wash. But not before you are sure the seams are strong, its dye won’t fade and that the fabric can “take” rough treatment. Well, you (vis-à-vis your own writing deserve at least the same consideration.
Being emotionally and psychologically ready to receive feedback presupposes an ability to use the feedback constructively. “Constructively” means that you have achieved enough distance from your writing to understand, for instance, that “not quite” describes the paragraph, not you.
First, the writer must be emotionally ready to receive it. Secondly, the person giving feedback must be knowledgeable about type of writing and how to give feedback (this is a learned skill) and he/she must care about this particular person’s writing. And thirdly, no matter how good the feedback, if it is ill-timed, it will be worthless, possibly even harmful.
I know that when I first plucked up courage to show a poem I'd written to a colleague at work, my heart was in my mouth. She knew a great deal about literature and had strong opinions. I knew she could be a tough critic and had she rubbished my attempt, I think I would have been crushed. Luckily, she was so supportive she became my sounding board for all my pieces. She probably helped me more than any writing course I did.
Other new writers aren't so lucky and get their early attempts rubbished (often, ironically, by the people closest to them) never to find the courage to write again ...
Giving constructive feedback is tough though ... and these days I tend to err very much on the side of caution having seen how easily new writers bruise. I have no wish to add to the critic's voice yaddering away in their heads. Stress the positives, gently suggest what could be improved. Push them to continue to write ... Hand wash them in soapy suds.
But how refreshing it is to sit down with a writer who has built up confidence in their work over time, and to be able to talk honestly about what works and what doesn't without them taking it personally. Bundled in with the rest of the laundry, this writer is colour fast, won't shrink or tear at the seams. They will listen, ask questions, sometimes fight back and explain why they wanted to do certain things in a certain way ... Hot cycle, tumble dry.
But it's taken them a while to get to this stage, gradually developing a thicker skin against the hard knocks that come with the territory.
My prayer is ... if I have offended anyone along the way with a surfeit of honesty, please forgive me ... for not being able to judge what level of feedback you were ready for. (If only you came with a care label ...)
Okay, writers -what have your experiences been with feedback and what kind of care label would you stick on yourself?