Friday, December 11, 2009

Fiction Friday: More on Feedback

I've had some interesting offline conversations over the past week on the topic of feedback. One of the chief discussion points seems to be how best to make your feedback useful to the artist.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Don't offer feedback unless it's requested.

2) Conversely, if you hand someone a piece you've written, and say, "What do you think?" that constitutes a request for feedback.

3) Try to offer your input at the level, or a single notch beyond, where the writer is at the time the feedback is requested. For example, if you get something from a very beginning writer, where there are very basic issues with grammar and structure, it's probably not useful to discuss things like mood and foreshadowing. Those are topics for more advanced writers, who have mastered the mechanics.

4) Maintain the self-esteem of the writer. (True of any sort of feedback, I think this is especially important where artists are concerned.) Undercutting the self-image of others doesn't help them. Try to be honest, but without cruelty.

5) Conversely, if all you want is praise for your writing, send it to your mom. It's her job to build you up and tell you you're great. The job of other writers is to help you grow and improve, and hearing only how wonderful your work is won't get you there.

You may be wondering, "Who died and made Jeanne Queen of Feedback?"

Actually, I took a class in this. More than that: my writers' group commissioned an English professor at a local college to develop and teach a six-week course in giving worthwhile feedback. His name is Ed Davis and he recently started a blog, which you can visit here.

Anyway, for six weeks we read short stories and critiqued them, learning from him, from each other and from the process. He provided much of the structure I wrote about last week, and the drill of doing it for six weeks really helped me to understand feedback, and to learn a lot about the craft of fiction.

Last Week's Winners:

I got a lot of good comments last week, but if I were to pick two that really stood out, they'd be Rachel Cotterill and Chef E.

Next Week's Prompt:

NPR did a story recently on a raw foods restaurant that just opened in Oklahoma City. They opened the piece by saying that opening such a restaurant in the heart of cattle country was "as promising as opening a Kosher deli in Tehran."

They got a lot of flack for that, and people wrote in to suggest other metaphors: "as promising as opening a no smoking section in Paris; a Hooters in Vatican City; a Best Buy in an Amish town; and - ouch - a trophy case in Wrigley Field."

So here's this week's challenge: Create a metaphor that starts "As promising as..." but describes something doomed to failure.


  1. Of course - and if you blog and allow comments, that, too, constitutes a request for feedback... no?

  2. Thanks for another kind of feedback:

    (taken from my comment box regarding the unwanted "image", in case you missed it)

    Dear Jeanne, Jeanne, dearest JEANNE! You’re a Jeanne-ius and the answer to my prayers! Thank you for being the ultimate putzer! Even though I'm not all that religious, today, I declare you Saint Jeanne, Patron Saint of Desperate Avatary Situations and Difficult Blog Circumstances. Your advice = problem solved! Many, many thanks! (To show my deep appreciation to you for getting me out of this fix, I'm still trying to get you two free tickets to the St. Jude show, when he's playing in Vegas. (<-- Lost causes' main man. My parochial grade school "book learnin'" is speaking loudly this morning, eh? I guess those nuns were cracking their whips much harder than I realized till now! LOL!) If you’d rather skip the sainthood thing, then I definitely proclaim you to be one these:

    Thank you again,

  3. That sounds like a great class. I'll be looking for those since I'm going back to school. I have to take my prerequisites first, though, I'm sure.

    I can't think of a good metapor right now. When one pops into my head, I'll come back.

  4. I'm all for crowning you the Queen of Feedback, especially since it's something so hard to do well.

  5. I wouldn't send my work to my mom, because unless it was on a theme she related to, she likely wouldn't read it. I would rather give it to my honey to read and "build me up."

    I've got one for the prompt question! I think it works.

    As promising as a Saint Patrick's parade in Ibrox stadium.

  6. Ooh, I won! Yay! (I won a book the other day, which was also super-nice.)

    So far I've got as far as "as promising as a snowman in the desert" which I'm pretty sure is an actual phrase. I'm not good at this sort of task.

  7. I mentioned the whole "like" and "as" metaphor thing before but I will play anyway - as promising as a lottery ticket!

  8. I was just asked to give someone feedback on their writing...this post helped me do so! Thanks Jeanne!!! :)

  9. I've really got nothing to add here, Jeanne. That's great advice.

  10. Feedback is always tricky. I think you've made some excellent points.

  11. Since I'm up at 5 a.m. with my very awake baby, here's mine:

    As promising as getting twelve hours of sleep with a six month old baby...

  12. As promising as a blind chef with no taste buds...

    Did you expect anything less from me :)


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