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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Forget it! I Ain't Listening to You!!!

...or the disinclination to listen to feedback...

I am a writer.  I write things.  I really enjoy writing stories, but I'm actually pretty good at writing reports and tightening descriptions for other people.  I write a mean complaint letter, too - rip out a hum-dinger and then sit on it for a day, review and amend, sit on it, review and adjust, and finally send out an effective, non-condemnatory missive.    It's the only way to go.  You'll seldom encounter a thoroughgoing villain in this life, and treating people like one when it isn't deserved is never a good idea.
One thing writers really need (and which many say they want) is criticism.  The text is always the same: Read what I've written:  What do you think of it?  Can you think of anything that would improve it?  Or anything that is really outstanding about it?  Could you let me know?

So, I look over what is written and give my feedback.  Sometimes nothing is needed (in my own, specific, narrowed-to-my-preferences opinion).  And sometimes there are major wordsmithing issues.

At this point the choice is to give honest feedback ('Gosh, this stinks' is never appropriate) or to soft-soap things.
I'm involved in a contest at the moment.  It's a good one, I've learned a lot from it and it's helped me to grow.  But it has also led to some disillusionment.   I have learned that there are a lot of people who want to be writers.  They do write and they do have talent, but their sub-text is different.

What they want from a reader is not criticism or suggestions for improvement, or a different point of view.  They want to be patted on the back and told that their work is very good
How do you love it?  Isn't it wonderful?  Gosh, I'm just in awe!

Most recently, two writers asked people to read previews of their novels and provide feedback.  Both people presented themselves as experienced and their work as polished.  I read the previews and reported on my impressions.  I was honest and complimentary,though I found some problems.  (As an example, in a novel set in 1860 in a British province of North America, a married woman was described as 'Mrs. Suzanne Chalfont'.  This would have been a divorced woman's name.  There was a description likening sea lions to the dark brown, globby oil - it was a little early for crude oil to be part of the normal consciousness.   The writer of this excerpt was described by self and others as an historian.)

The other excerpt had stylistic issues - a case of heightening a 'feel' by flip-flopping paragraphs, some suggestions as to wording (substituting one word with a 'dirt' connotation for another).  Neither of my reviews were dictatorial, and both were written in a complimentary fashion.  And, let us remember, both these people asked for everyone's feedback

In each case I heard nothing.  In the second case I specifically asked if the feedback had made it through (it's posted electronically).  No response or acknowledgment, though others' input was acknowledged.  I went back and checked them out.  One had the book in question published in Kindle (you can update that) and would be putting it out as a paperback some time in the future.  The other person had self-published one book and had a speaking engagement or two as well as some published essays.  The people they both interacted with said their work was fabulous, excellent, just to-die-for, stellar...

I checked the historian's blog and was interested to see that the book was one of two that were described as ready to be sent out to agents.  Aha, I thought.  With those errors you might want to polish a little longer.  But that was that writer's choice.

As for me, I hadn't been aware of the sub-text.  You take people as you find them, and you accept and enjoy them as they are.  I don't believe I'm on this earth to force others to accept my own requirements.

But still -

No novel is perfect, though it's possible to over-correct one.  I have one that is a vivid romp (Pharaoh's Son).  I've polished and polished it, but I can see changes that I really should make: hunt down and delete any hint of the passive voice.  Insert information that ties in to a novel set earlier in the timeline but written after it.  It's an ongoing thing, and while I'm not delighted to have someone tell me that he or she doesn't like the story, if they'll tell me why they feel that way, I'll look into it and probably make changes.

Someone read an excerpt of mine, and he took a lot of time to go line by line (almost) and point out tendencies I had and wasn't aware of.  Wordsmithing.  I was thrilled.  Yes, it pointed out deficiencies, but it led to a way to improve my writing, make it more polished, more gripping, less turgid. 
I may be expanding this post in the future as thoughts come to me, but as Yul Brynner said as the King of Siam: Is a Puzzlement.

1 comment:

  1. I personally would be delighted to hear some constructive criticism regarding my book. It needs a lot of editing and I'm so new to the writing field I know I have a lot to learn. I also can't understand why people ask for opinions but then ignore you. What help is "Oh, it was wonderful and I loved every minute of it"?