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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Do You Know What Your Writing Needs?

Cake-6-copyWhen a piece of writing is “hot,” that is, when it’s fresh from your imagination onto the screen or page, you don’t really want or need critique.

Like a cake just out of the oven, a new piece of writing will lose its shape and flavor if it’s poked at too soon.

The level of feedback that will be most effective is determined by the development of the writing, not the maturity or experience of the writer, as some of us have been led to believe.

 Don’t Just Take It

discipline canstockphoto3489327 (2)There is a common nonsense notion that “serious” writers take whatever feedback is dished out, listen to it all the way through, and then sort it out later.

To be polite, that notion is organic material good for fertilizing roses. It does not further the creative process of humans.

Don’t be shamed or bullied into believing that “serious” writers take creative abuse disguised as “constructive criticism.” Serious writers respect their own creative process and expect others to do the same.

They know that a piece of writing needs one kind of feedback when they’re in the beginning of the creative process and a different kind of feedback after they’ve revised and polished it. They recognize that they return to the beginning of the creative process with every new writing project, regardless of how long they’ve been writing.

And they know they have the right and the responsibility to ask for the level of feedback they need.

If You Can’t Judge It, Who Can?

bad-judge1Most writers are terrible judges of our own writing. We’re either too harsh or too blind. We’re always too close to see what we’ve really written; we see what we intended to write. This is why we need feedback, so we can see our writing through our readers’ eyes.

But we’re the only ones who know how developed the writing is. Only we know how many times we’re imagined and reimagined a concept/character /plot/image/etc. and how many times we’ve worked, reworked and revised the execution on the page.

The problem is that many writers tend to overestimate how developed any particular piece of their writing is. We start with a fabulous idea or image and we immerse ourselves in the hubris that we can translate this idea or image into words that will trigger similar images and ideas in our readers. If we didn’t believe in this magic of writing, we’d never write anything. We give it our very best and we hope that this time we’ll get closer to perfection sooner.

When you’re fresh from that immersion, it’s easy to think you’ve done more and gotten closer than you really have.

To compensate, I’ve learned to reduce my estimation of what level of feedback my writing is ready for. If I think it’s ready for Level 5, I ask for Level 3.

Underestimating your writing is not as much of a problem because you’ll have other opportunities to ask for higher (or deeper) levels of feedback. But if you consistently underestimate how developed your writing is, you might want to adjust the level of feedback you request accordingly.

Ask for What You Need

Only you know what level of feedback you need at any given time. Many of us are so accustomed to taking whatever feedback we can get, we haven’t learned to consider what we want or need.

You have the right, and the responsibility, to choose the level of feedback your writing is ready for. We’ll identify the 7 Levels of Feedback in our next post so you’ll know how to do that.

Note: This post was adapted from my article “You Can Get What You Need” published in The Writer’s Connection, March 1997.

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5 Comments on “Do You Know What Your Writing Needs?”

  1. Joel D Canfield April 12, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    If we don’t have a target, or don’t know what it is, we can’t possibly aim for it. Good stuff.



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