From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, August 31, 2015

How To Strengthen Your Feedback Backbone

I've been thinking about this topic for a very specific reason: I start my MFA program today. I've already had assignments given and work to do. I'm taking several workshop classes, and all of this means that I'm going to start having my work critiqued on a very regular basis.

That's a little scary.

And also wonderful. I am beyond excited to go back to school, and learn from my peers and people with talent and experience, and hopefully improve. That's the point of all this, and as we all know, improvement can sometimes mean a little bit of pain.

We writers are getting our worked critiqued and looked at regularly anyway (hopefully), so how do we become good at dealing with that? How do we grow writerly backbones strong enough to take feedback and work with it?

1. Practice. When I was a kid I had to give myself daily shots. (Its a long story). At first I was scared, and it took a long time for me to be able to do it myself, rather than have my mom do it. But after a while it became no big deal. Sure it stung a little, but not much, and sometimes hardly at all. It was the anticipation that was always worse than the sting itself. Get feedback on your work often, and hopefully habit will lessen the pain.

2. Have a "Safe Start." Have a friend or family member who can be your gentle first reader. This has often worked for me in the past. I have a few people who will read my piece, point out any glaring errors, but overall tell me its great and I'm great and everything's great. Now I don't want to stop there, because that means stopping improvement, but it can at least help you move forward with confidence in your step.

3. Know its not personal, and you're still in charge. Its pretty impossible to be objective when giving writing feedback, and its helpful to keep this in mind when you're reading comments on your work. Maybe this isn't their favorite genre, or maybe they have something to prove, or maybe they're just in a bad mood. Maybe they're just not your reader. I personally think it can still be super valuable to get feedback from people like this, to get that opposing perspective. However keep in mind that you don't have to take it personally, and in fact you don't have to take it at all. You, ultimately, are the writer. You make the final decisions. Its still best to take all feedback into very serious consideration, in my opinion, and be humble enough to improve. But if consideration is where it stops, then that is a-okay.

Mostly, don't be scared to put your work out there. I'm consistently surprised by how many hopeful writers become stalled because of that fear. Don't stall. It's scary, but worth it if this is really what you want. Remember that if this experience is painful, its not meant to be knock down punches, but a refiners fire. (If you find people merely trying to get you down, avoid them. Like the plague. Be nice, but really. Plague.) You'll come out better on the other end.

You can do this.

Sarah Allen

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  1. These are all great points. I definitely rely on my CPs, because I struggle to identify the good parts of my own work - at least that makes it easier when I have to cut stuff out!

  2. I'm still afraid of critiques or feedback, even though I have a thicker skin now, than when I first started. Your advice is solid. All the best with your studies.

  3. I've never been afraid to send my manuscripts to my critique partners. I trusted them to give me honest feedback and make my work better. And they did. Plus, several of them excel at humor, so the comments were often hilarious. (Difficult to be upset or angry when you're laughing!)

  4. Being critiqued is a great way to thicken the skin.

  5. The first time some one read my work and did not like it, I was heart broken. Now, I cam take it.

  6. Congrats on your new endeavor. Sometimes we just talk about doing it and sometimes we do it.


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