Right. I’m back from work and I’ve had tea. Earlier I looked at what constructive criticism is. Now I’d like to consider why writers need constructive criticism and the need for a writer to be in a frame of mind where they can accept it. Then I’ll say a little about the first time I was asked to give some written feedback on a manuscript of poems and my feelings and thoughts at the time. As before, I’d appreciate any comments on any aspect of this subject. Thanks.
Creative writers have (or should have) an emotional attachment to their work. Perhaps not everything they write will be the product of deeply personal experience or firmly held beliefs, but an investment of the self is necessary on some level in order to produce something the writer can feel is worthwhile. Writing a poem or story generally requires effort and time, and this means that attachment to a piece of writing is strong. This inevitably means it is difficult for the writer to see the strengths and weaknesses of their own work, so in order to improve it someone else’s opinion is valuable, assuming they are asking the right person.
For this reason the giving of feedback to a writer is a delicate task requiring an empathetic understanding of how closely associated with the work the writer might be
Of course the writer must be in a place where they are able to at least listen to feedback without immediately responding with defensive counter arguments or explanations which might even border on the hostile. I remember being in a workshop where all comments (which were I think, on this occasion, were all considered, respectful and constructively delivered) were met with a succession of responses as to why they were misguided or ‘wrong’. I did wonder why the writer had attended the workshop at all since she appeared not to want to hear what people thought and seemed to think her poem was beyond critique. I am not talking about the understandable response to destructive criticism (I’ll go into what that might be later) but about being receptive to reasonable and reasoned comments and suggestions.
At some point I will talk about further about my own experiences, positive and negative, of being given feedback on my writing. But now I’d like to share a little about my experiences of giving feedback.
I have only offered feedback to writers who have asked me for it. I have done this as part of a workshop and in response to e-mails from friends. Once or twice I have had to decline the invitation to critique a manuscript. There are a number of good reasons
for declining invitations to give feedback which I’ll go into later.
The first time a poet friend sent me some of their work for feedback I knew they had entrusted me with something very important and I experienced a range of thoughts and emotions. I was pleased that they thought I was qualified for the task. I was excited. I knew I liked the work I’d seen and was looking forward to reading more. I was honoured by the invitation. I wanted to be useful, to develop my skills in reading carefully and writing a considered and well-organized response. I was slightly nervous. I knew that I would have to point out aspects of the poems that I thought didn’t work. I was worried about upsetting the poet. I didn’t want to do any damage. I was keen to be as honest as possible (I’ll return to the concept of honesty or candour in another post.) I wanted to be subtle yet clear about areas I thought might need work. I wanted to be balanced. I was aware that the task, if done properly and sensitively, would take up a lot of time.