Good and bad feedback… How do you define the difference?
Well, this topic came up in part because of a writers chat that used to run on Twitter called #SFFWRTCHT. You can look up that hashtag and find transcripts from all the chats, which are totally worth it because you’re guaranteed to learn something about writing and writers.
One of the standard questions the chat always asked guest writers was: “What’s the best writing advice you ever got? What’s the worst?” I always loved that question. The answers have been enlightening. I’ve wondered what I would answer if asked that question. And that leads me to feedback… because a lot of the advice you get as a writer comes from people who want to give you input on what you’re doing. I’m talking mainly about critique groups here, but it applies generally to anyone who reads your work.
Meg posted earlier this week that feedback and criticism are two different things, and she’s right about that. Criticism focuses on what’s wrong. Feedback focuses on someone’s reaction to the piece to help you see how your writing has impacted a reader in real time. That’s useful information.
For me, then, good feedback is an honest response to what is written, which some willingness to share why the person had that response. “When I got to this paragraph, I lost interest because the description of the spaceship’s engines was too detailed and too hard for me to follow.” – That’s good feedback, because you know where you lost a reader and why. “I don’t like science fiction, and I didn’t like your characters. I wouldn’t read this.” – That’s bad feedback, because you have no idea if the person didn’t like your writing because of the characters or because of the genre, and you have nothing to work with when you go back to do edits.
Then there’s painful feedback… the kind of thing you need to know, even though you don’t necessarily want to. And how you respond to that feedback is the difference between being a serious writer and being someone who just wants praise and petting, not hard work.
My experience of that is detailed in the post I wrote for a blogger/author friend a couple of years ago. The link is below, and I encourage you to read the full post. In a nutshell: I once wrote a character, first person point of view, who was supposed to be an angsty, moody teenager that readers were supposed to identify with, and even root for. My readers thought that he was a crotchety old man whom they wanted to die.
So…um…FAIL. Talk about painful feedback. But it was good feedback because I learned how to respond to it in the editing process, and I made a better story with a more likable and age-realistic character, and I improved as a writer. For more on that story, click here:
Let my tale of feedback woe and triumph encourage you that feedback can be good for you, depending on what you do with it.