Monday, February 17, 2014

Feeding on Feedback

I love criticism. Okay, I hate it. Actually, I love / hate it. It definitely depends on who it is coming from and what their motive is. If they are trying to make themselves look clever, it doesn’t come off well at all. If they are sincerely trying to be helpful, then they are taking a risk and I appreciate it more than praise. I am lucky to have a few friends who kiss my ass and few willing to kick it. I like a bit of both.

I took a creative writing class at LBCC about ten years ago where I expected to get assignments and learn from a teacher, but the class was run as a group. Most students were older writers looking for feedback rather than kids working on a college degree. They knew the value of conversing with other writers, something I was just learning. I naively submitted my first piece and got raked over the coals and I loved it. Not because I am a masochist, but because every thing they said was true. I learned from it and applied it. I wanted to get better and their input was golden.

But not always. I once submitted a piece and this hostile fat guy tried to correct me by pointing out that a person who runs marathons would not get winded hiking up Mt. Whitney. I have actually done both so I knew what I was talking about, but I did not need to say anything. Other people in the class set him straight about altitude while I sat back and bat my eyes at fatty. What I’m saying is you have to consider the source. Criticism is not always valid, but this is why the group thing works really well. It also brings up a good point. I have always heard to write what you know, but I will add “Question what you don’t know.” This guy could have saved face by asking, “Would a runner really get winded on Mt. Whitney?” Yes, I benefited greatly by listening to my work getting critiqued, but equally enlightening was reading the work of others and really hearing what everyone else had to say.

I have a few of what I call “red pen friends.” Surprisingly, they are not my friends that teach English, but two women from my book club who go through my writing and notice everything spell check neglects, as well as pointing out things like “word choice?” Everyone needs a red pen friend, although it is humbling. I am not a good red pen friend. I read for content and don’t even look for mistakes unless I am asked. I naturally notice flow, but I really enjoy funky writing styles, like Annie Proulx.

This weekend I had the pleasure of spending some time with one of my English teaching pals, Rebecca. She has three kids under five years old, so it feels really selfish to say “Hey, you spend all week reading student writing, now read some of my stuff!” But she does. I think she likes the process too and enjoys the adult content. But Rebecca won’t answer an email about writing. Her editing process occurs on my couch, usually while she is nursing a baby and being interrupted by “Mommy, I need to go poo poo.” She doesn't write her feedback, she verbalizes as she reads and she is very good. She is a priceless friend. I’ll gladly take the toddler poo poo and even wipe booty while she keeps reading. She graciously talked me through some writer’s constipation yesterday. Uh-oh, sorry. Once poop comes into the conversation it tends to linger.

Writing can be damn lonely. What is the point if no one reads it? And what is the point if someone is touched but doesn’t tell you? Isn’t that why we do it? Expose a bit of your soul, lay it out on the table and have people say, “Yes, I relate.” This type of response is precious, but mostly I write for myself. It is great if someone reads my work and gets something out of it, but even if they didn’t I would continue writing. It is oozing out of me and I can’t stop it. Writers will get this.

Yes, I really am fortunate to have friends who read and offer feedback, but the sweetest thing to hear of all is the simple request “More please.” Nothing is more satisfying than leaving them wanting.

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