Sunday, April 01, 2012

Trustworthy Feedback

By the time we reach the end of a draft--whether it's our first or forty-second attempt--we’re so close to the work that we can’t always see it clearly.

That's when it's helpful to ask for feedback, to rely on another pair of eyes to help us see and understand what we may have accomplished (and what we may still need to do).

But who do we trust to give us feedback on our work? How do we know if our critique partner or editor or agent is looking out for our best interest rather than her own?

Some readers may view our work negatively or in a harshly critical light, diminishing our sense of self worth (and the worth of our work), while others may view our work in a positive light, offering favorable comments and expanding our view of what we're capable of doing (and seeing).

Getting trustworthy feedback is tricky.

You might spend weeks and months working on a story, finally feel you’ve gotten it just right, and share it with someone to confirm your feelings that it’s done.

If you give it to a partner, a spouse, a parent, or a neighbor's child, you’re likely to receive a glowing report, which may be true, or it may be slanted because of their love for you. (“You’re great and anything you write is great, too!”) Or it may be glowing because they don’t want to hurt your feelings and can’t tell you the truth. Or your manuscript may be ok in some places but not in others, and they don’t know how to tell you.

If you give it to another writer--a friend or a workshop colleague--you may receive a negative or lukewarm response in the form of “I expected the character to do this...” or “I was disappointed the story didn’t go that way.” And most likely that’s the way the other writer would have written the story. In other words, other writers may have their own agendas, ones hidden even to themselves.

Editors and agents, too, may have their own agendas. Some may encourage you to shape the story so it’s more commercially appealing. Others may want it to contain more romance, more adventure, more violence, more ______ (fill in the blank) in order to make it, well, more commercially appealing.

Finding trustworthy feedback takes a certain amount of luck and persistence, as well as clear insights into human nature. You want to find a reader who can offer feedback that you can trust about such things as how the plot unfolds and whether the through-line is clear and if the character’s motivation has been fully developed.

Even when you find such feedback, you may discover trustworthy readers differ from one another. Each has different tastes and different strategies for how to craft a story.

What’s crucial is that you find a reader who is respectful of what you’re trying to do on the page and is willing to help you try to achieve it.

The key is to find someone who helps you open the door to your own creativity and imagination, who inspires you to dig deeper, explore further, and, most of all, who can help you keep pursuing the dream that is your story as it unfolds in your heart.

For more on finding a reader to trust, visit:


Elaine Magliaro said...


Sometimes, I find that I'm the reader I'm looking for after I've done dozens of revisions. I have to put the poem aside for a period of time when I can't get it just the way I want it...get frustrated with it...or I'm not sure it's the best I can do. I find that returning to a poem after time away from it can often help me to "see" it with new eyes.

I am also fortunate two have two good friends--both published children's writers--who provide me with excellent and honest feedback.

Bruce Black said...

Somebody once told me "Time is the best editor." (I've worked with some fabulous editors, so I don't know if time is the "best" editor... but it's pretty good.) Spending time away from a manuscript can be so helpful. I'm always amazed at what I "see" that I was unable to see when I was closer to the work. But stepping away from one's work for a while takes a certain patience and maturity that comes only, I think, after years of writing. It was something that I had to learn the hard way.
Honest feedback is invaluable. You're lucky to have such good friends! And when you're pressed for time (under deadline, for instance), such friends are a good way to help you measure your progress.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.