If a writer writes and nobody reads it is he or she still a writer? On behalf of those who have written some remarkable diaries, stories or screenplays that have been neatly tucked away in drawers or saved in password protected files, writing can certainly be a self-fulfilling undertaking. But for many writers the next step is to invite others into their world, to read their work, explore their thoughts and possibly open the door to the wide range of responses, reactions and opinions that we collectively call feedback. It is from such feedback that we can re-think, re-shape and re-rewrite our work, unless of course we choose to simply reject it. Yes, as writers, we do have the power over feedback to accept it, question it, utilize some of it or simply ignore it.
Consider the Source
Feedback can be a good thing, but you want it from the right source. Someone who writes bloody “Chucky” style horror screenplays might not be your best choice for feedback on your Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards nor would your 65-year old Aunt appreciate your soft porn, unless of course she’s read Shades of Grey. And I would certainly be a very poor judge of a manuscript for a romance novel since I’ve never read one. Actually, a journalist friend of mine, who clearly never liked romance books, once wrote what she thought was a legitimate outline for such a book and submitted it to a publishing house. The concise feedback she received was, “Your distain for this genre is evident in your writing.”
I always recommend that writers and authors look for feedback from people who “get it” when it comes to their genre and style of writing. Recently a first time author wrote a very interesting 125-page non-fiction book about Deadbeat Moms and their children whom they neglect and abuse. She requested feedback from a fiction publisher who told her that because she simply changed the names in the true stories to protect the innocent that the book should now be classified as “fiction,” which it clearly was not. He also told her that the book needed to be 200+ pages with lots of dialogue, which defined his novels but not her book. I handed her a list of a dozen non-fiction best sellers that were not 200 pages in length and explained that she should not be distraught over his feedback because he publishes a completely different genre of books.
Tell Them What You’re Writing
If someone recommends that you develop the characters more fully over the next nine chapters, clearly you did not tell them (or they did not understand) that you were writing a short story.
When you are handing (or e-mailing) your work, you should let the recipient know what they are receiving since both their feedback and your response may differ depending on the type of writing you are doing. Non-fiction feedback, for example, typically needs to be approached in a more fact/research based manner. If I may be incorrect in an article about the year in which the Berlin Wall came down or the creative team behind Sponge Bob, I want to know that I may be wrong. But, when it comes to a poem or personal diary, feedback is based on the reader’s reaction. Someone may have a completely different interpretation (as in art), but it’s hard to be “wrong” when you are writing your personal emotions or remembrances. A grade school teacher once told my daughter that her drawing of a tree was “wrong” because it was blue. One could only imagine the grades Picasso would have received in her class had he been going through his blue period.
Finish Your First Draft
It’s also a good idea to wait until you have finished at least one full draft of whatever you are writing. This way, nobody will lead you astray with their ideas. It’s like cooking and having someone taste it after you have finished. They can then suggest that you add seasoning or whatever is needed. But if they recommend that you add chocolate frosting early on it might completely take away from your goal of making a strawberry shortcake. Feedback too early in the process can send you down a path that is not at all where you originally wanted to go. Even while ghostwriting a book with a client I try not to lead them down my path but prefer let them explore their own direction first before perhaps suggesting that they might consider veering onto a slightly different route.
Good Feedback: Yea!
Of course, good feedback, from the right person who “gets it,” can be beneficial. You can see your work from a different perspective, perhaps add a new dimension or research an unexplored aspect of the same topic. Of course structural feedback such as the need to condense some of your five line sentences or not to use the word “I” to start every sentence of your 400-page memoir can be much appreciated.
Yes, feedback by the right people when you are ready for it, can be good, but always understand from where it is coming and consider how you can use it the context of making your work better.
Rich Mintzer is a published author, blogger and owns Your Book Your Way ghostwriting service.