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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.

Are You Sure It’s Feedback You Want?


smiley group canstockphoto9462161_comp (2)You’ve probably seen it: the confusion, frustration, disappointment or disbelief when a writing group gives a writer requested, yet unwelcome feedback.

Readers wonder why the writer submitted the piece if s/he didn’t want honest feedback. They often judge the writer for being unprofessional.

The writer, on the other hand, wonders why at least some people in the group refused to give the kind of response s/he specifically requested.

When critique sessions go astray, it’s often because the writer only thought s/he was looking for observations about the piece. Below the level of conscious awareness, the writer wanted reassurance that s/he has what it takes, that s/he can write and should keep working at it.

I Couldn’t Find Reassurance, Will Critique Do?

There aren’t any “reassurance sessions,” so writers, especially aspiring writers, submit work that really isn’t ready for critique. The unconscious hope, I suspect, is that in the midst of the feedback, they’ll hear something that will allay their fears and help them keep going.

Experienced writers also yearn for reassurance when we start a new project, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.

I’d love a guarantee that the book project I’m contemplating will be successful. I wish I knew that I’m not pouring my time, creative energy, passion, hopes and dreams into something that will only disappoint me and never amount to anything.

smiley encourage canstockphoto11681771 (2)No one can give me, you or any other writer that guarantee. But I can settle for someone I trust saying, “That’s sounds intriguing. Challenging, but perfect for you.” I’m buoyed and energized when that person asks, “What’s your next step?”

Isn’t That Childish?

We don’t ask for reassurance because we think we’re not supposed to need it when we’re adults. But the truth is, reassurance allows us to deal with fear. Even if we don’t worry about the monster under the bed anymore, adults have plenty to be afraid of.

Humans, like other primates, instinctively seek reassurance because it allows us to relax, which is an essential part of managing fear. Gaining strength from our social bonds is normal human behavior, nothing to be embarrassed about.

Gaining confidence and support from other people allows human begins to do amazing things. We are a social species and, despite the American mythos of the rugged individual, we aren’t meant to figure everything out on our own.

We don’t need to be patronized. We don’t need Pollyanna, New Agey “Everything will work out just the way you want if you visualize it enough” statements. That’s pseudo reassurance.

We need real reassurance. We need to hear a variation on, “This is hard, but you can do hard.”

We may need to be reminded that everything may not work out the way we want, but if we don’t try, it’s certain to not work out. When we know that someone else knows “You’ve got this,” we can take a deep breath and move forward into our audacious dream.

And there’s nothing childish about that.

Next post: The Maestro’s Advice and why you shouldn’t believe it for a minute.

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6 Comments on “Are You Sure It’s Feedback You Want?”

  1. DianeDiane March 10, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    In the writing program I’m in, we were all asked to give out balanced feedback, meaning one part what we liked to one part what may need improvement. It was far easier to point out what we didn’t like, but I also learned a lot by looking for what was working (every piece has it in there somewhere). Enjoyed the post.

    Like

    • rosannebane March 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Diane. I’m gratified to hear you’ve learned to benefit from noticing what’s working in other writer’s work.

      Like

  2. Joel D Canfield May 10, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    I’m putting together a “writer’s support group” here in Rice Lake, and this is EXACTLY what it’s going to be: a reassurance group.

    With my experience coaching entrepreneurs and authors, I know what it takes to encourage without diminishing motivation, to ask “What’s next?” If I can put together a group which can do that for each other, we all win.

    Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2015 Top Ten Banes of Your Writing Resistance | Bane of Your Resistance - December 29, 2015

    […] When critique sessions go astray, it’s often because the writer only thought s/he was looking for observations about the piece. Below the level of conscious awareness, the writer wanted reassurance that s/he has what it takes, that s/he can write and should keep working at it. Read more… […]

    Like

  2. Finding a Writer’s Group that Really Works | The Bane of Your Resistance - July 25, 2014

    […] Even more importantly, be sure you’re really want and need feedback. If you’re inclined to dismiss that with “Of course I want feedback. What else would I be in a writer’s group for?” read this. […]

    Like

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