My Love/Hate Relationship with Feedback

“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready.’”
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

Yup.  That’s about it.

No, but seriously, I have such a love/hate relationship with feedback and writing criticism.

On the one hand, I hate it.  Showing people a chapter you’ve written is like saying, “Look, here’s my baby.  Tell me if you think it’s ugly.”  And they do.  You slave over your words, you climb up a mountain with them, and when you finally reach the top, someone pushes you over and you tumble back down.  It’s really, really hard to get writing feedback, especially when you truly care about a project.  When I was in my writing program in college, I couldn’t look at feedback on my poetry and stories immediately after our work was graded.  I would get my work back, and– while looking away from the top of the page where the grade was– would fold it in half and tuck it, unseen, into my backpack.  In my room, I would move it to a desk drawer where it would sit– still unseen– until it was time to work on the next draft; usually by that time, the sting would have gone out of it a little bit.

During my senior capstone, I had to learn how to handle criticism.  I met every single week with my advisor, who could cover the whole front and back sides of a sheet of paper in red ink full of suggestions, deletions, squiggle underlines (bad), straight underlines (good), and the word PUSH.  There would be more red ink from her than black ink from what I’d originally written.  In addition, every week, I sat down with a group of seven other writers, and we critiqued each other’s work aloud in a local Caribou.  At the beginning of that semester, I would pray before I had to meet with my advisor; I was so nervous for her critiques and so scared I might cry in front of her.

By the end of that semester, though, I had learned how to handle criticism– and better yet: I had learned how to take the criticism, revisit my writing, and make it better.  When I graduated, I had a senior portfolio I was proud of.

So on the other hand, I love criticism.  I love that my friends who love reading and writing, words and metaphors, can see the potential in my drafts and that they are willing to put the time and energy into reading them and making suggestions.  I love that they can pick out the obvious flaws that I somehow just cannot see.  They tell me when my characters aren’t being true to themselves; they find big-picture concepts that are a little off and help me correct them.  I have realized that the mere fact that someone is willing to offer feedback shows that they are investing in me and my writing, shows that they believe it has a future, one they want to buy into.

I’m so blessed.  I have the most incredible writing group.  Anna, Rachel L, Jaidyn, Rachel R, Carra, and Addie.  We meet once a month to share life, stories, poems, and commiserations.  They are all completely brilliant and care deeply for me and my novel, and I am so, so grateful for their help on this journey.  Along with my writing group, I also have wonderful beta-readers in Elyse, Stacey, and Mary.  My faithful blog readers Brienna and Melody too!  My mom and sister are rockstar readers as well.

In addition, I have been getting help from Ben Barnhart, this incredible editor in Minneapolis, and of course, I went to the Big Sur Writing Workshop too for an intense look at my first two chapters.  I have come a long, long way from those early days of feedback– now I seek it out.  It’s still not easy; make no mistake.  It’s hard.  But it’s good.  

In fact, for me, it’s the only way I can take my writing to the next level.

How about you?  How do you feel about feedback and constructive criticism?

group reading

Christian media

Last Friday I had an adventure with my former writing professor Judy.  We went to Macalester College to meet Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz, one of my favorite books, and watch a special pre-screening of Blue Like Jazz: The Movie.

The movie was very well done, a fictionalized account of Miller’s time at Reed College in Portland, Oregon– a story about a young Christian who is stepping away from his faith and trying his hand at life.  I loved that it didn’t shy away from any tough issues.  The movie was gritty and raw and real, and I encourage everyone to go see it on April 13th.

Steve Taylor, the movie’s director, was at the event as well, and he introduced the film by saying, “Since when did ‘Christian’ come to mean ‘family-friendly’?”  He pointed out that the Bible itself contained stories that kids might not be old enough to hear.

When I think of Christian movies, I think of cheesy, overdone movies with bad acting and fairytale endings.  When I think of Christian books, I think of poorly written, G-rated romance novels with unbelievable, over-the-top conversion scenes and lots of scenes where the protagonist “happens to” come across a Bible verse directly suited to her situation.  No thanks.

Writing about Jesus is tricky, let me tell you.  How do you write about an eternal God who supernaturally reaches into people’s chests and grips their hearts without sounding insane?  How do you write about spiritual experiences in a way that people who do not love God can come along for the ride?

I think this movie is going to be a big step in the right direction.  Check out the trailer hereLet me know your thoughts on all this!

today

… was a hard/stressful day and I agreed to see a therapist (but this time NOT for OCD– wow!).

BUT today was also really good in a couple of ways:

1) I re-took the MMPI last week (read here for my past blog about this test), and I went over the results at the doctor’s office today, and they were saying how HEALTHY my results were. I teared up there in his office and said, “You don’t know. I was a MESS. Praise God.” He said, “Good for you for working so hard and coming so far,” which showed me he completely missed my point. It wasn’t me. That’s for sure.

2) My writing group has a write-up on the NWC English department’s blog. Check it out!

One thing that would really be meaningful for me would be for you to post a comment saying that you read my blog.  I can see the analytics, and I know people are stopping by, but it all feels so anonymous, and I need some names and faces please.  I wish I could sit down and have hot cocoa with you blog readers.  With marshmallows.  Lots of them.