One of my biggest pet peeves in writing workshops is offering feedback on a story to a fellow student and hearing the phrase “yeah, I kind of knew that.”
Every time I have this interaction (and I feel like it has happened at least once in every workshop I’ve been a part of), one of the following is true:
- The writer was trying something new or different that they weren’t confident with yet.
- The writer was too lazy to fix the flaw before giving it to the group for feedback.
- The writer didn’t think anyone else would notice the flaw.
- The writer was okay with their flawed writing and figured the story was good enough.
To which I respond:
- Respect. You get a pass. And good on ‘ya for trying something new.
- If you’re too lazy to fix something you know isn’t right, don’t ask me for feedback, you’re wasting my time.
- Your arrogance is wasting my time.
- You’re satisfied with mediocre storytelling, in which case you’re wasting my time.
Life is Too Short
There’s a theme here. Life is too short to waste time giving feedback to writers who saw it coming a mile away.
What’s more, as a writer, honest feedback is a precious thing. You only get so many feedback reads (depending on the patience of your readers). Don’t waste your reads by asking someone to give feedback on something that isn’t as good as you can possibly make it.
The best possible scenario when receiving feedback is that we’re surprised by every note. The most effective set of notes is the one that pushes us to consider things we hadn’t before.
Easier Said Than Done
Because we’ve all had that moment of realizing we kind of knew something wasn’t right. I’ve spent the last decade setting my own bar as high as possible in order to get the most out of any feedback that comes my way, and it still happens.
In fact, that’s what inspired this blog post. I got a set of notes from my agent yesterday. He loved the draft, which is always exciting, and had five main story notes for me.
Four of the five were surprises. They were really good questions about the story that opened up avenues I hadn’t considered. Awesome. But that last one – when I read that note I realized I’d already had the same thought.
The note-I-already-knew was in regards to the framing chapters of my story. I added these short, in-between chapters last, and so they were the freshest writing in the manuscript. Fresh writing is rarely good writing. At least, not for me.
Words need to marinated. Phrases need to settle in. This is one of the reasons I try to put as much time between rewrites as I can. There’s something magical about time that just makes writing better.
But I was excited about the draft and anxious to get my agent’s feedback, so I sent it anyway. I was kind of being lazy (in not polishing up those pages), but mostly I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on the framing chapters until I got some feedback that they were working. I was trying something new. (See bullet point #1.)
Thankfully, it seems the framing chapters are working, but the pages themselves need a little more substance. I’m not surprised by that, but I am encouraged, which I guess is also a good outcome.
Pushing ourselves to do as much of the work as we can BEFORE we get a feedback read is one of the ways we become better writers. Writing is hard, particularly if you wan to do it well.
So dig in, fight the good fight, and have faith that every time you catch a misstep in your writing before someone else does, your authorial muscles are getting stronger.