Don’t Fear the Feedback


Isn’t it a great feeling, after you’ve done something well, for someone to acknowledge your effort?

On the flip side, don’t you want to know if disaster is looming, so you can take action to minimize or correct it?

As an editor and writer, I’ve had to deal with how to handle criticism. The word “criticism” has an evil connotation these days so we’ll substitute “feedback.”

We all know that writing is extremely difficult work. It takes a great deal of time and effort. It requires constant thinking and analyzing. Most of the time, we pour our emotions into it.

It’s easy to understand why writers may get a little huffy when their “babies” become exposed to someone’s review. It is painful when people start picking them apart.

I’ve had writers get upset if I removed an unneeded comma, suggested a better word, or noted their development could use some work – really upset. Admittedly, in the heat of deadline battles, I may have stomped on the emotional connection between writer and piece.

When seeking and giving feedback, remember that nothing is totally abysmal. (Okay, I’ve had a few thrown-together papers that came close.) There is always something good in what someone has written. Start from that foundation and go forward with the attitude that any feedback is designed to make it better.

A good editor will resist the temptation to change everything. Honestly, there are times when I think I could make corrections to a Shakespearean sonnet. Some things just need to be left alone. However (and this is a big “however”), there must be a good reason for it.

“Because that’s the way I want it,” is not a good enough reason. Explain why you want it that way.  You’ll be surprised at how much good feedback you will get.

Lots of time we avoid asking for feedback. It’s terrifying to hand over our literary “baby” to someone else. We can almost feel our hearts contract.

Think of it as sending your child off to kindergarten. She will be okay, and she’ll learn a whole bunch of stuff in the process.

My teenaged grandson wants to write a book. In fact, he’s already written about 40 pages. One night, we sat down and talked about character and plot development. We talked about how his main character would react to certain circumstances given her background.

“I’m going to have to change a lot of things,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more to this.”

You know what was wonderful about the experience? We were so excited talking about how he could improve his story, we stayed up until 3 a.m.!

Yes, feedback can be a lot of fun. Don’t fear it!

What steps will you take today to face your feedback fears?


Yes, You CAN Write Well!

writing fear

If you ask, most people will say they hate writing. If you dig down deep enough, you’ll find that this dislike is based on fear – the fear of failure.

“Oh, Annette, you can’t possibly understand since you love to write!” you’d say.

Yes, I do love to write and, at the risk of hubris, I’d say I’m really good at it. Yet I can fully understand why people would fear failing at writing. It’s not just because I know that good writing requires organization and a borderline insane attention to detail. I have a deep empathy because I feel the same way about math.

Honestly, I try to convince myself my brain is not wired for mathematical processes. I have to work exceedingly hard at math, and the concepts refuse to stick in my head.

I think this is the way most of my writing students feel. The good news is that we can all overcome our fear of writing (or math) with hard work.

Here are a few “secrets” to becoming better writers and quelling that fear:

  • Make sure you allot enough time for writing. No one I know can pluck perfect writing from thin air on a moment’s notice. It’s never right, and hurried writing stands out like a dog at a cat show.
  • Learn to organize ideas. Good writing means transferring information to others. Good writers lay down a path with their ideas that readers can follow. (Think Yellow Brick Road.)
  • Pay attention to the details. Yes, grammar and proper usage are important, just like the steelwork for a bridge is important. You don’t think about it, but if it’s poorly done, it can sure spell disaster!
  • Nothing is perfect the first time. Understand that and deal with it. The brunt of good writing is in revision. Just like a muscle car taken out of mothballs, writing needs a good polishing to attract admirers.
  • Anything you want to master – a musical instrument, a sport, or a skill – requires practice to make you better. Writing (or math) is no different. The more we practice, the more we become comfortable with it. The more comfortable we are, the less likely we are to fear it.

Anyone can become a good, solid writer.

I’ll make a deal with you: If you try to do more writing, I’ll do more math. I may never come to love math or dive into Sudoku, but I may just get over my fear.

Weekend Wrinkle:Be Creative, Be Successful

Many people have an incredible ability to talk themselves out of things. Writers can be particularly talented at this.

We convince ourselves that our writing isn’t good enough. We think of all the practical things that can sideline us before they ever come into being. Sometimes our creativity is counterproductive.

Mostly we fear to be wrong. Writing gives us power, and it is an awesome responsibility. What if we write something and it goes awry? What if we fail?

Writers are not superheroes that, when they fall, can easily become super villains. We really have to get over ourselves.

Creativity is a gift. Yes, sometimes we’ll stumble and fall, but the world doesn’t crash down around us.

More often than not, we succeed and, oh, what success there is! We should rejoice in our accomplishments and put our failures in their proper place.

Banish fear and create!

Move from Thinking to Doing

Observation and thought – two characteristics that have served me well as a writer. Not so much when it comes to living life.

My whole life I have watched others and considered how their actions get them to where they are. When I was young, this meant watching how my older brothers got into trouble. Hey, I’m a firm believer in learning from others’ mistakes.

napoleon quoteThe problem is that all this thinking often keeps me from experiencing adventures. I think about what could happen and talk myself out of them. When I do take action, I often feel like I’m diving into an Olympic-sized pool of Arctic water.

The result is that things turn out fine, usually a lot better than I anticipated. So why do I let that little voice inside my head paralyze me?

I admire my daughter who is definitely a doer. In fact, she often does too much and gets herself in trouble. She’s usually juggling so much, that she gets overwhelmed and distracted.

If I could only take her “doing” and my “thinking” and combine them together into one person – a sort of Clarkenstein monster perhaps – that would be perfect! Unfortunately, my utility budget couldn’t stand the strain, so I must figure out a better way.

So here goes:

  • Stop anticipating. That little voice is not a fortuneteller; it can’t really know the outcome of my action.
  • What will be, will be. When that little voice says, “Don’t do it! You’ll get hurt,” just remember that I can deal with whatever comes.
  • Doing gets me to where I want to be. No matter how much that voice tells me to wait because the time isn’t right, I know it’s wrong. I can’t get anywhere without taking that first step, then the next…
  • Fear is an illusion my mind produces. That little voice that tells me all the bad things that can happen to me is nothing more than a character I have created. Therefore, I can kill it off if I really want to.

When I stop thinking too much and start doing, I experience more. When I experience more, I enrich myself and, consequently, my writing.

P.S. For those of you near South Carolina, the Rock Hill Chapter of the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop will hold “Writers’ Secrets Uncovered,” its annual Writers Intensive on Saturday, April 25. Sunscribe Publishers, one of the main sponsors, is holding a contest for an exhibit table. The contest ends Sunday, March 22.