Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Feedback on Writing

I started teaching this past week, so I've been thinking a lot about giving feedback. Funny word, feedback, calling to mind as it does sense-memories of an ear-splitting sonic boom. Which is how most of us respond to getting notes on our writing.

Let's face it, what all of us secretly want is for an influential person to read our work and praise our hitherto unrecognized genius. And even if your work is critiqued gently and accurately, it can still feel like a threat to your survival.

The internal drama goes something like this: “I dwell in a magical fantasy place of my own, an expression of my truest, purest essence. I want to share with others, but if I do anything to alter it, I’ll banish myself from my own personal Eden. Why can’t other people see this world the way I do? What’s wrong with these people?”

Or at least that's what goes through my head.

But since I've started writing for the theater, which is so collaborative, I've come to see how all storytelling is a conversation between creator and audience, a game of tennis. If we as writers don’t make ourselves understood, we are playing handball, hoping someone will sit on the sidelines and cheer.

That's not how it works. No one ever got up at an awards show and said, "Y'know, I did this all alone with no help, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank myself." If you want to reach an audience with your work, you have to be willing to listen to them.

But that should be nourishing, not punishing. Which is why I've decided that, instead of "feedback," I'm going to give my students "feedbag."

That way they'll have something to munch on.


Rick said...

Constructive criticism is something I try to get better at receiving. Just praise is fine!

Vanessa Nix Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vanessa Nix Anthony said...

Marc - this is a must-read post for every writer. We all do live, quite happily and somewhat tortuously (when the muse won't speak) in our own little writing worlds. It seems agonizing enough just to muster the strength to wrestle with the angel some days, that when faced with criticism we all seem to want to run -- or like I have a tendency to do, fight. (Fight or flight for survival, remember?)

Thanks for reminding us that feedback is not always for our destruction (especially if we have solicited it)it's many times, as you said, for our nourishment.

Looking forward to strapping on a feedbag again