I was happy to meet Lisa Blackwell, author of Are You a Mule or a Queen?: How to Have Others Honor Your Wishes and Value Your Time, this month at the Martha’s Vineyard Writing Residency. Today she kindly shares advice about receiving feedback on your writing in a group or class. If you are in the D.C. area, you can learn more about this subject at her upcoming class on Constructive Criticism at the Women’s Center in D.C. on December 3.
Lisa Blackwell teaches and writes short stories and non-fiction to highlight the quality-of-life struggles of women in today’s fast paced world. In addition to her recent self-help guide, she has been published in make/shift Magazine, CALYX Literary Journal, and Phati’tude Literary Magazine. Visit her website for more.
Mule to Writing Feedback
Several years ago, I was working on a novel. Being a new writer at the time, I wanted to get feedback and critiques from anyone who was willing to read my work. I attended writers’ conferences and writers’ groups hoping to get commentary on my work from others who were more experienced. Some of the constructive feedback I got was quite helpful and helped me grow as a writer. However, some of the writers with whom I shared my work didn’t get my genre and couldn’t relate to the characters’ dialect or slang; others were pretty tactless in the way they delivered the feedback. This caused me to do endless rewriting and altered my voice in my own work. I became a “mule” to diverse, and sometimes unqualified, opinions of my writing instead of selectively soliciting feedback from a trusted few.
Sometimes I would put down my work, go back to it a week later, and find that the writing didn’t even sound like me. My characters’ behavior and dialogue didn’t sound familiar to me. My insecurity as a writer made me addicted to obtaining feedback and validation from others, which caused the characters I had created sound like strangers. Many people will want your writing to conform to the style of writing they have been educated to like. I learned a valuable lesson with my first work. It taught me to put down my voice in a “raw” and “unfiltered” form and then let three people I have come to trust review and provide editing and commentary critique. These folks are of course very experienced in my genre and subject matters, and don’t try to alter my voice, but ask questions that can enhance or fill gaps in the story I’m trying to tell. Most writers write to express themselves without constraints. When providing feedback to other writers it is important to suggest and identify techniques to help clarify something for other readers, but don’t make judgments on what was written, even if you don’t like what is being said. Be kind and thoughtful with your comments so you encourage the writer to go forward; this is especially important for new writers. Writing creates its own synergy, and the more you write, the better you become at it.
As a writer, I have learned that many readers may not get what you are saying. This has proved to be the case with most writers who have received rejections during the course of their careers. However, rejections don’t necessarily mean that what you are saying isn’t worth hearing. Many authors have refused to allow themselves to become “mules” to rejection and negative feedback. They write for themselves and not their audience. Authors who stay loyal to self-expression have often gone on to achieve great sales and success from their work.