The Value of Feedback

January 6, 2009

My agent, the wonderful Lucienne Diver — http://varkat.livejournal.com  — got back to me today with comments on the first 100 pages of my new work in progress.  Her comments were pointed, candid, and unbelievably helpful.  I’ve spent much of the day reworking the first six chapters of the book and though I’m not done yet, I’m already convinced that her criticisms and the changes I’ve made in response to them, have improved the book immeasurably.

Writing is often called a lonely endeavor, and much of the time it is.  I usually do much of my work in isolation, seeking comments and editorial guidance at the end of a draft which has been written over four or five or six months.  But occasionally I reach out.  A couple of weeks ago I got my friend Faith Hunter — http://faithhunter.livejournal.com — to read my opening paragraphs.  Her comments were of great help to me.  And today I’ve benefitted from Lucienne’s insights and generosity.  I’m lucky to have such good people on my side.

Writing doesn’t have to be done in a vacuum.  Give your work to friends or family members who you trust — and by trust I mean two things:  You know they’ll read your work and comment on it without being cruel, but you also know that they’ll give you honest criticism, that they won’t spare your feelings by misleading you.  Learn from these people.  When they tell you there are problems with your work, consider their insights.  In the end you might disagree with them — that’s fine.  But listen to their critiques.  And, equally important, when they tell you that you’re good, that your book is worth reading, believe this as well.  Sometimes that’s the harder challenge.

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4 Responses to “The Value of Feedback”

  1. Graham said

    Enjoyed this post David.

    When teaching kids we talk about “critically friending” someone’s writing.

    And you are spot on in regard to the trust bit. Trust is the most valuable of human constructs.

    But, I believe also, it has to do with the/a critical friend valuing what you are doing too. And by valuing I mean they consider it is important to see your best work, best potential, best you, coming to the fore.

    I believe that is part of the equation, too.

  2. Graham said

    BTW – Australia has retained it’s #1 status in Test Cricket after beating the South Africans today! Yes, there is a god! 🙂

  3. Alan said

    Good post, David. Honest feedback is the most valuable thing a writer can have. Perhaps the bigger skill for the writer is recognising that honesty and differentiating it from people just being nice. It takes a special person to be really honest with a writer. My wife is an expert at it when it comes to my writing while my mother in law is useless, for example! 😉

  4. davidbcoe said

    Great point, Graham. There is a level of respect necessary for the critique process to work. They have to respect you as an artist, and also, as you say, a desire on the reader’s part to help you succeed to the best of your abilities.

    Congrats on the Test Match win. Very exciting.

    And Alan, yes it’s crucial that an author sift through the feedback he/she receives with a critical eye. This goes for positive feedback as well as criticism. As writers, we are the ones ultimately responsible for the finished product, and part of getting there is not just writing, not just accepting criticism, but also differentiating between criticisms that work and those that don’t, praise that is deserved and praise that is gratuitous.

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