Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Importance of Feedback

This is a subject previously touched upon, but it deserves another look.

The process of feedback is very important for a writer, whether the feedback is negative or positive; it still forms an integral part of a writer’s journey and their ability to learn.

It can be daunting letting someone else read your work, because you are not entirely sure whether they will a) understand it, b) dislike it or c) like it. 

Handing over work for feedback is the act of opening yourself up for the worst criticism, but by letting others read your work, you are inviting their opinion, their response, and without it, or indeed constructive critique, you will be unable to grow as a writer.

One of the most important reasons for feedback is to enable others to see errors in your story which are not always apparent to you, they will tell you if the story works, they will comment on your characters and description, they will tell you of it all makes sense and so on. 

This process allows you to understand your story from an objective viewpoint because a fresh pair of eyes will guarantee to find flaws.

Receiving feedback is easy. Accepting feedback is altogether different. In truth, no one likes to be criticised, but writers have to accept this as part of the job, whether they like it or not. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. It’s accepting that we got it wrong that separates the true writers from those who value arrogance above all else.

The feedback that is most ignored by writers is the kind of feedback that he or she finds hard to accept, because they will find a hundred excuses to justify it, such as ‘they didn’t understand what I was trying to say’ or ‘they don’t appreciate the genre’ or ‘I deliberately wrote it to be like that…’

Feedback highlights the issues that the writer hasn’t spotted, so it doesn’t matter whether the reader doesn’t understand the genre, or whether they are the world’s greatest grammarian, what they are giving is an honest, open opinion. All writers should respect this and then re-examine the work to see where they can make improvements.

It doesn’t really matter who provides the feedback, whether it is a friend, an avid reader or whether it’s a professional critique, each one is still a reader. And it’s what they think of the work that counts.

And of course, once you have some feedback, it’s how you deal with it that is important. Do you shrug it off with arrogance? Do you take on board their comments? Do you examine what you need to do in order to improve? 

What you do determines the kind of writer you are, and how much you want to learn.

Rewriting and editing following reader feedback is just as important as the creative part of writing, because it allows you to take a critical look at it again. The ability to reflect on your own work is a fundamental principle of creative writing. This means you need to be able to edit your work appropriately, you need to be able to take on board any comments and make your work much better. Some writers prefer to eschew this process and plough on regardless. These writers are seldom published.

Antisthenes once said, “Not to unlearn what you have learned is the most necessary kind of learning”.

Antisthenes, once a pupil of Socrates, was onto a good thing there. In other words, by not learning from your errors, you will never learn. And if you don’t learn from such mistakes, you never improve and grow.

There is a very simple process to follow – whether the feedback is good, bad or indifferent.

Once you have written your work, give it to people to read to gain their opinions and views. Their responses might be very positive, they might be very negative, or they could be constructive. Once you have that feedback, it’s important to reflect on it, to understand why or how, to interpret their analysis and to form objective judgement based on their views. Only then can you go back, edit and improve – as long as you are not afraid of humility and you have the desire to learn. 

Remember:
  • Write and edit your work
  • Let others read it, gain some feedback
  • Examine all opinions and comments
  • Reflect on your work
  • Edit and improve 

I’ll leave the last word to Mark Twain: "The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all".


Next week: Do too many characters spoil the story?
 

5 comments:

  1. Beware positive feedback too - friends are often wary of criticising and may provide a false impression of work.

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  2. Try & find a reader who enjoys the genre in which you write and knows a little about the market. For instance it's no good handing a woman's magazine story to a SciFi fanatic who's never read any of the magazines.

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  3. @ Anonymous. Quite right. Positive feedback can be detrimental too.

    @ Sally. This does help, although it isn't always possible. Good point though.

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  4. Smiles are always welcome, Spiky!

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