Tag Archives: feedback

Context Means Everything: Weighing Feedback

The other morning my Dear Daughter was in desperate need of an outfit.  She’s tired of wearing the same old-same old for speech and wanted a pair of slacks instead of a skirt.  I dug through my closet and found a pair of (shrunken) dress pants.  She slid them on.

“Mom!” said she as she held the waistband out inches on each side.  “I can’t believe your hips are this big.”

Now, I could have been insulted–especially since I knew those pants fit a little more snugly after their heated run-in with the dryer and my hips’ happy reunion with the salsa jar.  I could have taken personal affront at her comment and chastised her for speaking rudely.

However, she wasn’t trying to be rude.  She was actually giving me a compliment.  Regardless, her cheeks flushed and she continued, “It’s just that they don’t look that big.”

In defense of her, they don’t–generally.  Because I also have broad shoulders.  So, when taken in as part of the “big picture”, my hips are proportionate to the rest of me.  It’s only when studied alone, via a tape measure or a skinny girl in too-big-of-pants, that my hips can be classified as…uhm, wide.  Solid child-bearing hips, they be.

FAST FACT: Anything can hurt when taken out of context.  Over-sensitive types can blow things out of proportion, while narrowly focused folks tend to hone in on one aspect of the big picture.  Both of these traits can make us fail to see the positive side of something that otherwise feels negative.

Seriously, if we really wanted to, we could turn even the most caring and helpful statement into a tragedy.

What am I talking about?

Critiques, feedback from professionals and rejection letters.

Over the years, I’ve watched a fair number of writers (myself included) react to critiques from writing groups, partners, betas or rejection letters.  More recently, I see the same thing in the speech kids I coach when they get their critiques back from judges after a round.

FAST FACT: People have a tendency to focus on the perceived negative.  The one point that makes them really consider themselves, their writing or their performance in a way they absolutely do not want to.

Then, they twist this feedback into something ugly and hurtful and demeaning.  They toss it out as worthless and hateful.  They stick it in the shredder and refuse to acknowledge its existence.  In essence, they let their emotions get the best of them and they lose the opportunity to really consider the merit behind the words.

FAST FACT: If we would calm down and let our initial reactions take a walk around the block, we would see the big picture instead of an isolated statement or two.  We would put comments into context, giving us a better understanding of what the beta reader, judge, agent, editor, parent, speech coach or Dear Daughter really meant.

We would pause for a moment when confronted with loose waistbands and realize that wide might not be a synonym for fat like we first thought.  And while I get that we don’t always have the benefit of flushed cheeks and further commentary to clarify a critiquer’s meaning, we still need to consider each individual statement within the context of our work, the rest of the critique and the critiquers themselves.

Are you like me, occasionally guilty of taking feedback out of context?  Of totally dismissing an idea out of hand because the critiquer just didn’t get it?  How does this affect your writing and editing?  How do you give space to critique-induced emotions, and how do you know when you’re ready to evaluate the big picture of a critique rather one or two seemingly negative comments?  Have you ever come back to a critique or feedback of any kind and realized–despite your initial reaction–the judgment was correct? 

Curious minds want to know.

PS. Is “critiquer” really not a word?  WordPress Spell Check doesn’t think so.

Tell Me How You Really Feel: Spam Critiques!

I just checked my spam filter and found the most hilarious comment of all times.

Several of these replies on this post are garbage, You should delete them.

Now if I were a sensitive soul, I could take great offense to this.  I would feel hurt for my supportive bloggers and potentially swear off writing altogether because somebody didn’t like the vein of the post or my dear fellow scribes’ perspectives initiated by my post.

But I kept my cool and weighed the value of this feedback.

Yep, you guessed it.  Writers, weigh the words of your critters against logic, your vision of your work and what you know of the business.  Don’t let one critter get you down and destroy your passion.  Worse yet, don’t let them sway you into deleting the garbage if there is no garbage to delete.

I’ve been around the beta block a time or two and am in several crit groups.  I love the feedback I get.  Sometimes I confuse my readers.  Sometimes I shock them.  Sometimes I bore them or make them roll on the floor from laughing so hard. 

Always I assess their comments and determine which of these things rings true for my manuscript.  I love honest criticism.  I love the part in the process where critters challenge my skills as a writer.  I don’t love destructive criticism that dictates changes based on another’s personal agenda.

Find my flaws, but don’t change my vision.  Strengthen my skills, but don’t change my style.  Fix my plot holes or weak characterization, but don’t force your ideals onto my work.

This is my novel.  This is my style, my voice and my vision.  If you don’t like it, say so and tell me why.  I won’t be offended, as I know full well, I can’t please everyone.  If you love it, let me know why so I can get a read on what works.

If it truly is garbage, let me know.  But by Jolly Green Giant, make sure we’re talking the same language.

Don’t crit me out of bitterness for you own shortcomings.  Don’t tell me my writing is unpublishable unless you are every agent and every editor at every company across the globe.  Your opinion is one in the midst of many. 

Tell me how you really feel and I’ll accept or reject your commentary based on how it applies to my writing.

But whatever you do, don’t spam me. 

Several of these replies on this post are garbage, You should delete them.

What amuses me most about this comment is that there are NO replies on said spammed post.  None.

What do you do with critiques that represent spam more than thoughtful commentary?

Table Talk in Writing

Friday night Dear Hubby and I played Sequence with Eldest and a handful of his friends.  Even though the kids cheated horribly, DH and I kicked some kid butt. 

The reason, at least to my way of thinking?  The kids were so busy trying out their secret table talk that they failed to keep their heads in the game.

Writing is a bit like this.  Okay, A LOT like this. 

Just yesterday, one of my crit buddies and I chatted about how we–insert writerly name here–have the tendency to defend and explain our positions during a critique session. 

“But,” we might say to some feedback, “this is why I did it.”

Or, “I know this sounds confusing now–insert explaination–but it makes perfect sense later in the manuscript.”

Oh yeah, we are masters at defending our positions.  What we should be doing, however, is keeping our heads in the game. 

While we may have the luxury of enlightening our crit partners with extracurricular table talk, we do not have this same advantage when our readers include agents, editors and the paying public.

In the future, we may be able to insert a little chip in our digital editions that says, “Press button here to understand this section of the book.”

Until then, our manuscripts better speak for themselves.  And this means no table talk.  Because whenever we do this, we cheapen our writing and cheat our readers out of a delightful experience.

So, what do you do with critique commentary?  Have you had to pull out your cheat sheet and explain your writing to your readers, or do you just sit back and keep your head in the game? 

Mob Mentality

It’s been a crazy day.  A simple link leading to a knock-down, drag-out war popped up everywhere I turned today.

A self-pubbed author received a mildly bad review and majorly blew it out of proportion.  It was simultaneously hideous and humorous.  Yet after seeing the same fight replayed over and over again got to be wearing. 

Even more troubling were the reactions of the readers and commentors to the numerous blog posts, tweets and forum threads.  In no time at all, people hopped on the attack wagon themselves. 

Exhausting to say the least.

Then a writer friend of mine PMed me about the psychology of critiques in a thread.  And I paraphrase: Doesn’t it seem like the tone of the first comment sets the outcome for all comments that follow?

Absolutely.  100%.  Without a doubt.

Yes, yes and yes.  People feel empowered when they have the seeming support of others.  We forget to think for ourselves and let the ideas and opinions of others influence how we react.  Especially if we were wishy-washy to begin with.

People used to get hanged by mobs.  Innocent people had nooses slipped around their necks and the rumps of horses slapped out from under them simply because the mob mentality is so strong.  Going against the grain of popular opinion can almost be a death sentence in and of itself.  So bystanders either shut their mouths and allow atrocities to occur around them, or they jump on the back of the mob and shout their support regardless of how right or wrong a situation is.

We see this in schools, at parks, during rallies and on the internet.  Everywhere a group of people meets and intermingles, the potential for us to lose our independence and fall in favor of the mob is there.

Have you ever been a part of mobbing?  Wrote about it?  Read it?  What is an effective way to curb this behavior, if any?  If not, how can we protect ourselves from getting sucked into this very explosive game?

What does this mentality mean to you as a writer and the way you handle yourself in the public view?

Dare To Be Different: writing lessons from a tree

I have a tree in my front yard.  Its green leaves haven’t begun to turn.  I also have a cranberry bush on the north side of my house that has sported green leaves all summer long. 

Both these plants each boast one branch of red leaves.  A single branch of all red in the midst of velvety green.  It’s a crazy anomaly and one I can’t help but applaud. 

Dare to be different.  Even nature knows that sometimes a splash of unusual is preferable to uniformity.

LESSONS FROM A TREE

  • It’s okay to be a tree.  We don’t have to reinvent a new plant every time we write a book.  At the heart of it all, each book has a trunk (MC), branches (plot, story arc) and leaves (conflict and resolution told in a thousand tiny details.)  It’s the texture of the bark, the reach of the branches and the shape and color of the leaves that creates something new and exciting, not the tree itself.  Don’t go too far out on a limb with your project or you’ll have agents, editors and readers too afraid to plant your manuscript in their yards. 
  • It’s okay to be different.  We don’t need a new topic to write a good story, just a new twist.  A red branch, if you will.  Something that sets our manuscripts apart from the other trees in the forest.  After all, blending in completely won’t do us an favors on the book shelf.  Nor will a regurgitation of Twilight or Pirates of the Caribbean catch us the attention of an agent or editor.
  • It’s okay to bend a bit.  When the wind blows, my tree sways.  It may lose a leaf or two, but in the end, it still stands proudly as the center point in my front yard.  When we receive constructive feedback from our critters, we need to be open to a new perspective on our writing.  Bending without breaking can be the difference between a good manuscript and a great manuscript.  It can determine who is left standing in the literary world after the storm passes.
  • It’s okay to need nurturing.  Mother Nature generally waters my trees.  However sometimes she needs a helping hand.  When the skies clear and things heat up, I’ve been known to turn the hose on.  If you ever feel isolated as a writer, don’t.  Communities abound where people understand what aspiring writers need.  Your significant other may not always be able to provide enough nurturing.  Your writing community can.  Use it.  Plant your roots, because if the drought goes on too long, the damage can be irreparable.
  • It’s okay to be different.  Yeah, I know I already said that, but it’s worth repeating for another reason.  Every tree in my yard has a unique shape.  Some are bold, with a few strong branches.  Others gracefully reach to the sky with delicate limbs.  Some stand tall while others sprawl.  Accept who you are as a writer and a person.  Don’t prune your branches too look like everyone else.  Embrace  your uniqueness and share your shade whenever you get the chance!

Are you okay to be a tree?  What lessons from a tree are hard for you to accept?  Which ones feel natural?