Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What Are You Looking For When You Ask For Feedback?

At some point, unless you are only writing for your self, everyone needs feedback on their writing if only to check that what is happening in your head is being transferred to the page. I've written about getting feedback before, the differences between professional feedback and using friends or family, and how to get the best out of each.  But I've not written about what sometimes lies underneath our requests for feedback.  

I remember showing my first short story to my partner and although he was positive - it's good, was I think the comment - I felt dissatisfied. I don't know what I wanted - certainly not criticism (which would have rankled), even more detailed positive comments (such as, the description's good) wouldn't have gone down well (what, does that mean the rest is bad? Cue tantrums).

I'm afraid whatever his response had been - apart from, it was wonderful, amazing and you are the best writer EVER - I think I wouldn't have been happy.  What I said I was looking for was feedback on my story, but in reality I wanted something completely different, something I couldn't even articulate myself.  Love?  Reassurance?  Acceptance?  Whatever, expecting to find it from inviting criticism was doomed to failure.

One student showed her work to her parent and was devastated when the response was luke warm.  But she knew that her parent wasn't even close to being the sort of readership her novel was aimed at, so what was she really looking for?  Feedback on her writing or parental approval?  Another student showed their work to their partner and was thrown when they gave a negative response, which led to the student questioning the point in continuing to write. 

You've got to ask yourself what your motives are if you ask anyone who isn't also a writer; however much they read, they are unlikely to know the technical aspects. I always say to people that they should never, ever show their work to their beloveds - there's just too much other stuff floating around. 

Think before you ask: I know my mother's opinion about my genre, so I know what she's likely to say about my writing.  I don't ask, because I don't want to hear it from her.  I always say to people that they should never, ever show their work to their beloveds - there's just too much other stuff floating around. In fact, I prefer it that my children and partner don't read what I write (so long as they get all their friends to buy my books).  It's so much safer and happier that way. 

And if you ever get asked by a partner, sibling, child, parent or close friend for feedback, then think twice before you say anything other than 'wonderful, amazing, you are the best writer EVER'.


womagwriter said...

I showed the first story I had published to my husband. His verdict was that it was drivel. I found that a strangely pleasing response - he is so not the target audience!

I've been writing my current novel partly for my mother, as it is inspired by our ancestors. If I can't get it published I will 'Lulu' it for her. So she'd better blimming well like it!

Sarah Duncan said...

Drivel? And you're still married? MInd you, I know what you mean, when they're not the target audience you sort of feel relieved when they don't get it. Good luck with your family novel!