Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

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On Giving and Receiving Feedback

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I read manuscripts for people, I always offer feedback. I also always hesitate before doing so, because I never know how it’s going to be accepted (or whether it’ll be accepted).

From me, feedback on writing isn’t a declaration or proclamation. Sometimes, it’s the start of a dialog. This is a really good thing—the feedback I give as a reader is just one person’s response to to the words. It should help the writer understand how their story is being seen, at least by one reader. This is a little fraught with peril, because as writers we know exactly what we’re trying to get across. To hear that it didn’t work, or that it only worked in part, can sting. A lot. But I decided a long time ago that as much as it hurts to find out that I didn’t get my point across, or didn’t do it well, or left a completely different impression from the one I intended, or that someone didn’t understand my character or plot point or whatever, the critique will always make me a better writer.

I’m much more accepting of concrit now than I used to be. I still look on my characters and stories as my babies, and to me they are perfect. But I’ve also learned to look on my writing as a skill, and all skills have room for improvement. I’m not perfect by any means. I don’t write a perfect first draft that leaves readers reeling in wonder and excitement. That comes in the revision phase, if it comes at all, and for that, I need reader feedback.

So when I send out feedback to people (especially those I don’t know well), I always hold my breath a little and hope they’ll take the feedback in the spirit it was intended. Not as criticism but as suggestion, ways I think their work can be improved. It’s all just suggestion! It’s all subjective! What I like, another reader might not. What I can’t stand, another reader might love. We can’t please everyone, but we can at least learn to please ourselves with our writing.

I’ve been sending out lots of feedback lately. I love when I get impassioned responses to it on a point-by-point basis, especially when the author disagrees. Why? Because if the author feels strongly enough to debate my concrit, it means I have them thinking about their approach to the story, character, or scene. That’s the kind of thing that for me as a writer, I think about for days and days until I either decide the feedback-giver was absolutely right or absolutely wrong. More often than not, I realize they were right, and then my brain can start solving the puzzle of how to fix that piece.

Yesterday I got a response from someone who (I’m paraphrasing) said they were thankful because the feedback I gave not only fit with what other people had been telling them, but that it made something click and they figured out how best to revise. That made me so happy. Because so often when I send feedback I have my fingers crossed and hope the author will understand where I’m coming from, and so often I never hear a peep. Did they get it? Do they hate me now? Was I at least a little bit helpful?

Hearing back like that made me smile. So for everyone who’s ever bothered to read my work and send feedback, a giant thank you. And for everyone who’s read my feedback and had even a tiny “aha” moment, another giant thank you for taking my thoughts into consideration. No writer could possibly be where they are without their readers and critique partners.


Criticism vs. Constructive Criticism

Concrit. Everyone wants it, everyone asks for it. Providing constructive criticism shouldn’t be that hard. I was taught if I can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all. While that’s generally a good motto, it doesn’t mean we can’t be truthful.

As with most things, being truthful comes with a caveat. If someone asks for unvarnished truth, fire away. If they don’t ask, it’s generally far kinder to provide constructive criticism. What is concrit? It’s being honest about the flaws while also applauding the things done well.

I read a lot of manuscripts. I used to edit professionally. It’s never difficult to applaud a great turn of phrase but still correct grammatical errors. Neither is it hard to give honest feedback highlighting both what didn’t work and what did work. I’ve never met most of the people who trust me to give feedback on their work, but that doesn’t give me carte blanche to be cruel simply because I might not have a face to go with the name.

The trend right now seems to be blunt regardless of the cost. I realize that the Internet is a big place filled with a lot of people, and when we don’t know those people it’s easy to forget that every writer has worked hard on their story and believes it’s something to be proud of. It can also be tough to remember that there are actual people behind the names on pages, and those people have feelings, wishes, dreams, good days, bad days. Why is it acceptable to focus solely on tearing them down without offering a hand to help them stand again? This happens in more areas besides editing, although that’s where I’ve noticed it most of late.

The silver lining is still there, though: when I see an editor behaving like an entitled ass online, I know not to hire or recommend them. Writers go to editors for help, not for wholesale mud-flinging. I’ve got my list going of people whose behavior has been elitist and reprehensible. To those people, I provide this piece of constructive critcism: you’ve saved me the trouble of ever having to consider working with you.