Tuesday, 2 August 2011

When Feedback Goes Wrong

A friend asked me to have a look at their novel a while back so I did.  I like book doctoring, but don't like the fall out - people really want you to love their novels and it can be hard to accept that they're less than perfect.  I know this, so I'm exceptionally careful when giving feedback, as I thought I was in this case.

I met up with my friend recently and asked how the novel was going along. 'I've given it up,' she said.  'As no one was connecting with it, there didn't seem any point in carrying on.'  This was said while pointedly not looking me in the eye and, not being completely dim, I picked up that this might just be referring to me. Yup. It turned out that my lack of ecstatic enthusiasm for the work had convinced them that they should stop right there.  


I was amazed, as I thought I'd been quite positive, if not gushing.  I didn't say much more - it seemed best not to - but there were lots of things I wanted to say afterwards...

1.  You shouldn't ask for feedback if you don't want it.  Or warn me that you only want praise instead of asking me to be really honest.

2.  No one's work is perfect; there are always comments to be made.

3.  It takes me a lot of time to read, think, then give feedback.  I don't do it lightly so accept that if you're feeling disgruntled about my feedback, I'm also feeling put out that I wasted my time.

4.  Publication is a collaborative process.  You'll get feedback from editors, agents, copy editors etc.  You've got to get used to it if you want to be published.

5.  If you are dissuaded from continuing your writing because of one person's comments then you probably shouldn't be thinking of putting your work out in public - authors need to have a solid core of self belief.

6.  It's all opinion.  When I enthuse about a piece of writing it's worth just the same as when I'm less positive.  It's my opinion, no more, no less.  If I offer feedback it's what, in my opinion, could be done to improve the writing.  My opinion - though it pains me to say this - isn't infallible.  It might not work for you. 

I hope that once they've got over this, they will carry on with their writing.  It's good.  But it could be better - in my opinion of course.


Sarah Hilary said...

"Publication is a collaborative process. You'll get feedback from editors, agents, copy editors etc. You've got to get used to it if you want to be published."

Absolutely right.

The Time Sculptor’s Secret said...

How true... writers need to develop a very thick skin these days (with Amazon reviews etc) or at least be able to pretend they have! Thanks for your wise words. Jane Gray

Anonymous said...

A very timely post for me as I finally managed to read my young friends novel. it's good but needs some work and he's already said he's 'done with it' after edits and rewriting on agents advice. I will consider my words very carefully!

Ann Patey

JO said...

So very true. And some people get confused - if I'm asked to comment on a piece it's their writing I'm thinking about, not them as a person. We can all write rubbish sometimes, and still be wonderful people. And we need the very best of friends to tell us.

JO said...

I need to add to that - I do send my work out for independent review - wouldn't dream of submitting anything serious without it.

But first it is read by my daughter - who writes wonderfully, and loves me enough to take my writing seriously. So much so that she approaches everything I give her with a big red pen, writes comments such as 'if you wanted me to understand this you'd have used decent English' in the margins. Yes, we disagree at times, but in reading my work with with such attention to detail I feel she is recognising me as much more than just a mum, and that my writing matters to us both. It is her input that ensures that anything that goes for independent review is as good as we can make it.

One day she'll put her head above the parapet of motherhood and write something wonderful herself.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

yes - It can be very difficult giving opinions on someone else's work. But as you say it is only one person's view. I reckon If you ask a number of people to review your work and they all say similar things then it's time to take notice. Writers do have to learn to accept feedback gracefully whether they like it or not.

Sarah Duncan said...

Feedback - hard to give, hard to take, essential both ways.

Derek said...

Regrettably, I had a similar experience with a fellow author-in-progress, who asked for my (highly subjective) opinion. The writer sidestepped all of the positives and chose to focus on one piece of what I thought was constructive feedback. Maybe it's a Darwinian thing to weed out those who might not have a sufficiently thick skin?