A dear friend once told me that she never listens to the positive feedback about her work, because people feel they must say nice things. It’s obligatory. But, when she gets brutal, stinging criticism, that’s the real truth about her work. People wouldn’t say negative things unless they were true, right?
People say negative things for many reasons. Here are a few:
- They don’t know how to frame their comments constructively.
- They don’t know what they’re talking about, but feel the need to say something.
- They want to sound intelligent.
- They have a beef with the subject matter.
- The main character reminds them of someone they dislike.
- They are creatively frustrated and speaking straight from pain.
- They believe it’s important to express their opinion.
What if your writing were a child? Let’s say you’re unfinished first draft is a 3-year old. You want to make sure this kid turns out great. Do you put her up on stage and invite the audience to tell you what’s wrong with her?
“Okay, what can be improved here? Don’t hold back,” you encourage the crowd.
“Well, her left eye is a little lower than her right.”
“Her vocabulary could sure use work.”
“She’s not entertaining enough.”
Or what if the final draft with the unsolved ending is your listless, possibly depressed, 18-year old son. He’s doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and you’re afraid he’ll never move out of the house. Do you throw a dinner party and get everyone to weigh in on what’s wrong with him? Or do you find him some professional counseling?
Here are a few ways to avoid wounding the spirit of a writing project:
- Don’t show your work-in-progress to just anyone. Make sure that they are 1) compassionate 2) experienced and skilled in analysis 3) understand the writing process.
- Set them up for success: Let them know what kind of feedback you’d like and remind them to start with what’s working.
- When someone tells you what’s working in your writing, treat this as valuable information. You need to know what you’re building on.
- Know the difference between opinion and feedback. Opinion tells you something about the speaker. Feedback tells you something about your work.
- Be especially careful with pre-first draft work. Your job is to mother, protect and discover the true nature of what is forming. Any rough handling can make the work shy, or worse, change its nature.
DAILY PROMPT: Finish the sentence, “If you really look…” 6 minutes