Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Feedback, and Adults v the Inner Child

I couldn't find any cushions in the sort of colours and design I wanted.  Then I had a bright idea - I would make some!  I bought some cheap plain covers, fabric paint, felt and glue, and spent a happy evening painting and sticking.  The results were brilliant, and I was as pleased as anything with myself.

I showed them to one friend, who made nice (but in restrospect I realise rather non-committal) comments. Then I showed them to another friend.  The reaction was immediate: 'They're horrible.'

I whipped them away.  'It was just an experiment,' I said as nonchalantly as I could.

My friend realised the mistake and tried to make amends by saying they hadn't realised I'd made them, that they thought they'd come from a cheap shop; if anything that made it worse.  The cushions were despatched to the darkness of the cupboard under the stairs.  I was devastated, and have never attempted anything like that again.

I wonder how many people get put off creative writing in exactly that way?

They have an idea and write it up, show it to their friends or at a creative writing class, it doesn't go down too well and so they give up feeling hurt and bruised by the experience.  Quite a lot of people I've met have been put off writing by a negative teacher at school.

It's about standards, I suppose.  Should the fact we've attempted something outside our comfort zone be applauded regardless of the quality of the work?  Yes, of course.  And if we were children, that praise would probably be the end of it. But we're adults. In the adult world there are standards - reader enjoyment, entertainment, comprehension, etc which often get summed up as 'publishable'.

The problem with getting adult feedback is that creativity is about letting your inner child free.  It's that inner child that gets hurt by the negative comments.

As someone who frequently gives feedback on creative writing, I'm conscious of walking a tricky line.  Do I respond to the adult before me, or the child?  The adult wants feedback on how to make their work publishable; the child is vulnerable to any hint of criticism.  It's  hard to satisfy both and I get it wrong some of the time, for which I apologise profusely.  I know how upset I was about those cushions...

...but they really weren't very good.  Who was kinder - the nice friend or the one who told me how it was?  It's a mixture - I needed to know what was wrong so I could improve, but not so brutally I crumpled inside and gave up.  It's tricky because we're all different.  But then, if everything was easy, nothing would be worth doing, would it? 


Victoria said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

At risk of sounding pompous, I can't help wondering whether our inner children aren't tougher urchins than we sometimes think. It may be our adult selves who, spiky and fragile, need their feedback well-buttered. Perhaps writing calls for exactly the sort of pig-headed stubbornness that conscientious parents and teachers find most deplorable in infants. As adults we call it tenacity and tend to regard it as a strength.

Sarah Duncan said...

Victoria - I like that, there's almost a reversal from childhood to adult and back again. Like a hedgehog turning inside and out again. Lovely descriptions of feedback being well buttered, btw. Have you ever thought of writing...