I’ve been doing a lot of thinking the past week about getting feedback because that’s what I recently got – eight pages of single spaced notes about my novel. When you get really serious and tough comments on your work there are various stages you go through. The first stage (in my case anyway) is a panic attack. This can be followed almost immediately by: What do they know? and/or: They’re right; it’s all crap! (I’ve been writing and getting feedback for so long though that I glide through this second stage pretty fast.) If the feedback is coming from someone you respect (and hopefully not related to you by blood or past history) and if this person has read your work seriously and pondered on how you can make it deeper and better, then the third stage will be the dawning of gratitude. How wonderful to find someone who is honest and tough but also points out the worth of what you’re writing! The fourth stage is inspiration. A good critique can actually inspire you to forge on. Feedback that isn’t solely about the absolute perfection of your writing is simply part of getting published. Even if you sell a novel or memoir, be prepared for many notes, pages of feedback, from your editor.
I’m also on the other side of the table this week because I’m about to read what my twelve students in the advanced non-fiction class have been writing. The first time around I'll read through their pages fast, marking places that are confusing or off the point, or absolutely wonderful (with Yes! in the margin.) And then I'll go back and read through it line by line, making detailed notes on what’s going right with their work and what isn’t.
For those of you looking to have your work critiqued, if possible find another writer. Or even better, a workshop or a class. (But only if that class or workshop is led by someone positive and honest, and if the tone ever gets snarky and negative – leave immediately.) Writing is so intensely personal – our thoughts, emotions, memories, imagination, fantasies – that it’s a real strip tease act. So it’s okay to panic if someone doesn’t think your naked prose is perfect. Just take a deep breath and go for a walk or to the gym. If it’s good feedback you’ll then move on to gratitude, and finally go back to work.