Writing Tips #6

Here’s an interesting post from Charlotte’s Web about the Seven Stages of Receiving Criticism.

Seeking out feedback on your work is important. It’s a myth, I reckon, that most writers do successful writing on their own, in a garret. But it’s not a community effort or a writing-by-committee job either. You send your story to a few friends, or go to a creative writing group, or join a workshop-based course, and other people read it, and they say stuff.

And what do you do?

You shut up, is what you do. Zip it. Lips together. Cake-hole closed.

It’s okay to ask questions. ‘How do you think I handled setting? Is it clear that Millie didn’t mean to steal the cakes? I worry about my sentences being too long, what do you think?’ either before, or during the time when you’re getting feedback. It certainly helps me if you let me know what you want me to look out for, although I reserve the right to comment on other things too. But here’s the secret – once more for the road: once you’ve asked your questions and once you’ve handed over your writing – keep your mouth shut and listen.

Getting someone to thoughtfully read your work and then take the time to tell you what they think is a gift. It’s rare to get excellent feedback – rare to get any feedback above ‘very nice’ at all, unless you’re willing to pay for it. If someone’s good enough to take the time, listen to them. It’s for your own good, and even if it isn’t for your own good, it’s MANNERS for Pete’s sake. If you don’t want to listen, thoughtfully, then don’t ask. If you think they’re not going to understand, then don’t ask them.

It really, really really, really really really really gnarls my chizzle when writers interrupt to explain or justify what they’ve written in the face of critical feedback. (It actually does say here he’s got a peg-leg, which explains why he wasn’t able to drive the gettaway car…) You’re not going to be there to give a reader a running commentary if the book ends up in a shop, are you? If the piece doesn’t work without you orating on its behalf, (well, if you haven’t read *whatever* then you’re probably not going to understand what I’m actually doing here) then it doesn’t work and the best think you can do is listen and see if you can find out why it doesn’t work. Don’t correct the misunderstanding (actually, if you’d read the rest of the chapter you’d find out that…) find out what it is about your writing (if anything) that made the misunderstanding happen.

Shut up. Shut up shut up shut up. If it turns out you’ve not found your ideal reader, or you decide the feedback wasn’t useful to you, you say thank you nicely anyway (it’s a gift, remember, and one that you asked for) and then you button your mouth and sleep on it, or ask someone else, or decide you’re one of the garret writers. But you do that on your own time, not while someone’s trying to tell you what they thought of your writing. 

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