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2/6/23: Feedback

Why it terrifies so many of us, and what we can do about it.

Dear Reader,

If you're anything like me, then you still have vivid memories of what it was like to walk into English class, only for your teacher to have one of your essays graded with a dreaded red pen.

If you're anything like me, then you remember those feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness whenever you looked over the feedback your teacher gave you, thinking of yourself as a failure that would never get better at writing.

And though I might be writing a little hyperbolically here, I still feel like there's some truth to it.

Because I remember being in high school and hating knowing that one of my pieces of writing would be coming back at any moment, torn to shreds by a teacher or, perhaps even worse, a classmate.

And those were just the essays.

Imagine if they were your poems? Or short stories? Or you had written a whole novel, only for it to come back to you marked all over in red pen? An ocean of red washing over all of your hard work?

In today's blog, I'm going to talk about something that has been plaguing writers since the beginning of time: feedback. Why are we so afraid of it? Is it actually good for us? And are there really ways to receive it and give it constructively?

An ocean of red covering all of your hard work.

Firstly, I want to talk about my relationship with feedback and how it affected me. As I mentioned previously, high school English terrified me. I had incredibly strict teachers who challenged me and my writing capabilities constantly. I remember many of my writing projects returning to me completely covered in red ink, from start to finish. At first, it was pretty demoralizing; I have to be honest. I still remember many of my essays and the mistakes I made in them because of this.

However, as I started to write more, something started to change: I began to make fewer mistakes. I would catch myself before I misspelled a word I had misspelled before (One word I remember very clearly was the word happiness. I originally spelled it happyness). But after that bit of feedback, I never spelled it wrong again. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I started to become a better writer because of it.

Thanks to my teacher's guidance, and intense scrutiny of my writing, I found myself becoming a more capable writer. And this continued well into college.

However, that's also where feedback truly became an enemy of mine.

I majored in English Literature and had to take several writing courses along with my literature courses, which were the primary focus of my degree. In these writing courses, I felt entirely out of my element.

I found a lot of joy and passion in discussing novels, writing about themes and figurative language, and tying them to social or historical contexts. I enjoyed analyzing language. After all, that's what I spent all of high school doing when writing essays.

However, I had to write short stories in my college writing classes. I had to write poetry. And perhaps worst of all, once we turned these writing assignments in, we would get feedback from our fellow classmates.

To me, this sounded like an absolute nightmare.

I was terrified of what people would say about my writing. Would they hate it? Would they tear it to shreds in front of the class? How could I possibly take their feedback seriously if I was so afraid of what they would say about it? It was like high school all over again, except this time, there were bigger, scarier versions of the feedback monsters I had dispelled when I was younger.

However, in my college writing classes, I had to write short stories. I had to write poetry. And perhaps worst of all, once we turned in these writing assignments, we would get feedback from our fellow classmates.

This all changed when I got my first college job as an English tutor. My boss, who also happened to be an English teacher herself, wrote the book on constructive feedback for my school. And it was truly thanks to her that my mindset of feedback changed completely.

Here's a quick breakdown of what she taught me about feedback:

  1. Feedback is hard because you care about your art.

  2. Most of us never learn how to give and take feedback constructively.

  3. Feedback is essential to becoming a better writer.

Feedback is hard because you care about your art

This is perhaps the best piece of advice that I ever got about feedback, and it goes something like this:

Of course feedback is hard, dummy! It's because you care about it! You probably wouldn't have written it in the first place if you didn't!

When it comes to sharing your art with your peers, there will always be a part of you that is nervous. And you know what? That's natural! When we write, draw, or compose, we often do it from a personal place. Sometimes we create from a place of trauma. Sometimes we create because there's nothing else we can do at that moment. But regardless of our reasons, our art tends to come from somewhere special, which is why we are so often protective of it. And that's what makes it uniquely and beautifully ours.

So when we are faced with showcasing that art with those who are critiquing it, of course we will feel certain restraints and anxieties. However, what we cannot do is let ourselves never show our work to the world in the first place (unless you write or create just for you, which is also fine). Feedback is about looking critically at your work and wanting to improve it, and good feedback helps serve us in that journey.

This brings me to point number two:

Most of us never learn how to give and take feedback constructively

When I was first told this, I was shocked. Of course we were taught how to give feedback! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my teacher was right. For many of us, feedback lives on a very superficial level. Most often, when tasked with providing feedback, people either say that they did or did not enjoy something and nothing more. Unfortunately, we often forget to ask ourselves why we like or dislike something, and it becomes even more challenging when we're asked to elaborate on that why.

However, those whys are the backbone of feedback. Understanding why something does or does not resonate gives us the keys to understanding our position as the audience. Were you confused about a specific metaphor? Were the words conveying the message clearly enough so anyone could understand it? These questions give way to deeper conversations about improving our pieces; we can only get there by asking ourselves why.

When I am asked to give feedback, I tend to find it is accepted more easily and often when framed as questions instead of statements. Usually, when people explain that they don't like something, it is very easy for it to come off as accusatory or an attack, and feedback shouldn't feel that way.

Instead, feedback should be framed as a journey where the person giving the feedback is curious and the person getting the feedback is receptive. After all, shouldn't it be the job of the person giving the feedback to help the writer grow and create the best piece they can?

When I am given feedback, I proceed in starting the difficult task of putting my pride aside. After all, as I mentioned earlier, we are proud and defensive of our work because it is special to us. However, we also have to look at ways we can improve and get better. There is no room for ego in the pursuit of improvement.

If we all framed feedback this way, wouldn't we be more excited to receive it, knowing that it would help us become better writers?

Which brings me to the final point:

Feedback is essential to becoming a better writer

If I haven't convinced you yet, dear reader, I hope you can be convinced here. Because without receiving the feedback and criticism I did throughout my school life, I would not have gotten to where I am now with my writing.

We can write all we want, but if we are not getting other perspectives, opinions, and ideas, then we will only keep echoing to ourselves in a sound chamber. Without good, constructive feedback, we will only be able to grow so far before we think we've reached the top.

I would also like to point out that though this is my advice about feedback, it is still something that I struggle with all the time. It is a process and a journey, and we have to be patient with ourselves as we continue on our writing paths, and I am on the same path as every other writer out there. I, too, can get even better at giving and receiving feedback.

So here are a few final pieces of advice I have for you regarding feedback, and I sincerely hope they help you because they've certainly helped me:

  • Join a writing group or a writing community. There are tons on the internet, but if you can find one to meet in person, even better. A community will help build you up.

  • Take the feedback you like, and leave the feedback you don't. You don't have to listen to every piece of feedback you're given.

  • Feedback is about growth; it is not about perfection.

  • Feedback can be learned like any other skill. The more you practice receiving and giving it, the better you'll get!

Now get out there and start critiquing!


2 comentários

08 de fev. de 2023

I once gave you some of my writings. A portion of my memoirs. After reading my work, you asked, "Would you like some feedback?" I said, "No. I don't take criticism well." I should have taken the feedback. My writing is for a specific audience, my family. Those that have read some of my stories said, "I loved it. I reads just like you telling the stories." Perfect. Only as I re-read some of my writings, I think, I really should have done better with my proofreading or used an editor. Your feedback would have been beneficial in pointing out some of my shortcomings in clarity. So all could enjoy and follow my stories. Thank you for today's message of…

09 de fev. de 2023
Respondendo a

I still think about how much I enjoyed reading your writing, and I sincerely hope one day I'll get to read the whole thing. Thank you for reading, and thank you for leaving this thoughtful comment.

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