Handle with care

Feedback stinks. It seems counterintuitive, but the most difficult thing about writing (for me) is not the writing itself, but instead allowing my finished work to be critiqued by others. Don’t get me wrong, I do this willingly and understand that without some kind of feedback I’ll never reach my goal of being published. That being said, with every well-intentioned comment I sense that my fragile artist ego is in risk of dashing off into the wilderness to join all of the other missing and battered egos never to return.

With the help of a few great friends I’m currently going over my first completed manuscript. This is a new process for me, and I’m trying to heed the advice of the many writers who’ve gone before by being as hardnosed as a ruler toting nun regarding the quality of my prose. Still, I can’t help but cringe with every, “I’m not sure I understand that sentence” or, “Quasi first-person via third-person extraterrestrial detached perspective is not a POV I’m familiar with.” It’s like a personal assault, a stinging slap to the face, or a swift kick to the soft parts every single time.

I don’t just overanalyze the bad stuff. Oh no, I completely denounce the good feedback as well. After all, why should I accept the praise of someone who has just pointed out (correctly, I might add) that I’ve used the word zealous fifty-seven times in the first paragraph of chapter 8.

The problem is this: If the corrective feedback is pure anguish, and the positive feedback seems like well-meaning gibberish, why get it at all?

I’m not new to feedback. If you’ve ever as much as turned in a middle-school book report, neither are you. I’ve offered countless written sacrifices to the fickle gods of academia over the years, and became reasonably good at it (if you attempt a master’s degree in any field, you will learn to write or you will die trying). While I didn’t exactly love to see my paper bleed red like some kind of Swedish horror film, I was able to keep the response of my teachers in perspective. 

Maybe the difference is that my writing in those instances was done with the intention of getting corrective feedback, and now my writing is being done with the intention of being read for the sake of reading. As proud as I was of my work, I never once turned in a paper with the idea that my professors would somehow be fulfilled on an intrinsic level by my words. Furthermore, I spent a few years writing grants, and the folks that review those things can be brutal! Still, I was able to sleep at night without thinking of myself as a failure because they took issue with how I worded my response to performance outcomes in Box C. With my creative writing I might obsess over a misplaced hyphen for week believing it to be proof that I’m not cut out to do this as a career.

I had a professor in my counseling program once tell me (in so many words) that until the pain of something outweighs the discomfort, people will refuse to change. I think she meant that unless something actually hurts more than we can endure we often won’t change. The problem (in a counseling sense) is that a heck of a lot of damage can be done prior to that point, so teaching people to recognize problems and adjust their lives before a catastrophe happens is often a good goal for therapy. As it pertains to my writing, I view this as a good thing. I’m not going to give up until I can’t bare the failures, and I think I’m a long way from that.

1 comment:

  1. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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