All Feedback Is Not Considered Equal
Choose wisely the people you ask to critique your writing!
I’m going to sound old for a minute, but I want to start by sharing a dirty little secret. I am way too easily influenced by social media posts and find myself purchasing things that I really don’t want or shouldn’t have just because the addictive scrolling on Instagram or Facebook leads me to, yes, strategically placed ads that pique my interest.
I click. And I click. And then I find myself scrolling over shirts or programs or books and voila, now I own them.
Ugh. I hate this about myself, and I hate that I am so easily influenced. Sometimes I can return the thing and get a refund, and sometimes, I get the horrible message that the return policy is no returns, and so I am out of luck.
Serves me right for impulse shopping!
But the same is true if you’re a writer seeking feedback on your work. It’s so great when someone compliments you, tells you you’re a great writer, that what you wrote moved them to tears or laughter or just a feel-good moment.
And it hurts just the same when someone says something negative about your writing. Years ago, when my second chapbook of poetry came out, I was in Chicago for a Jewish holiday (I was Orthodox then), and the mother-in-law of a former sister-in-law (are you following this?) looked at my book and asked me what it was. I told her it was a collection of poems inspired by the Amidah, the three-times-daily central Jewish prayer.
She thumbed through the pages of the book that I had worked so hard on, and which I was so proud of. I had a book!!! My second book!!!
She placed it down on the table and looked at me with a grim face. “Yeah, that’s not what the prayers mean to me,” she said, and stalked off.
Um, ok, well.
I was younger then, and crushed by this feedback. All my effort and the poems just didn’t speak to her? I must be a total hack!
But as I’ve grown in my writing and in my teaching of writing, I’ve realized that the feedback only matters when it comes from someone appropriate.
Like, if you’re starting a new business, and you show your business plan to your sibling who has never owned or run a business, and they say, “That’s a terrible idea. How will you ever make any money?” Does the feedback even matter? They have no idea what they’re talking about!
I know writing is different - but is it? You think anyone can read, so anyone can be your audience, so anyone can weigh in.
When you’re looking for constructive, helpful feedback on your writing, choose people who a) get your voice, b) like your style and c) have some notion of what makes writing good.
I am really careful about who I select to be my critique partners. I choose writers who are at my level or better than me, writers who write and read in my genre, writers who know and like and understand my writing voice. I want readers who will be honest with me in a kind way. I want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can make my writing better.
While it’s nice to hear, “I can’t find anything wrong with your essay,” it’s not the truth. There is always room for improvement. And, that’s not a specific or detailed comment, which is what I’m looking for when I ask for feedback.
What works in the story? What characters need more depth? Which ones are compelling and well-rounded? Is the setting vivid, beautiful, detailed? Is the theme clear and consistent?
Good, helpful feedback is a rare thing. It’s to be treasured. And it’s something to take time finding.
Don’t ask everyone what they think. Don’t be swayed by quick influences or the opinions all around all the time. Go for the gold.
The March book giveaway for paid subscribers will be my talented friend Christopher P. Locke’s book, Without Saints. I’ll be choosing the lucky winner on March 22nd, so if you’re not yet a subscriber, please become one before then!!
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All love, Lynne