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Never be afraid of feedback

Constructive criticism and feedback are important parts of the writing process. Whether you’re writing the next great American novel, trying to become a Poet Laureate, or simply just writing stories for fun, it’s absolutely necessary to get opinions and different perspectives on your work. Without criticism, you’ll never be able to improve.

It’s like any skill really. Athletes have coaches who give them guidance on how to reach the next level, pointing out flaws in order to correct them. Most employees have supervisors who will provide feedback on job performance in an effort to make work better. Even academics are required to have their research reviewed by other academics before it can be published.

So if you want to be a writer, you’ll need to have someone who’s not afraid to tell you when you write something terrible. And in turn, you’ll need to learn how to accept that.

I learned this initially in college. If you’ve ever wondered what a “creative writing” class is like, it’s pretty much 25% writing and 75% critiquing what everyone else wrote.

We called them “workshops” because, of course, the things we wrote were just the first drafts. They were still works-in-progress, and we would discuss in the classroom how to make each piece better.

It was absolutely nerve-wracking in the beginning. There I was in a group of strangers sharing my personal writing, worrying whether they’d like it or not. It’s a terribly vulnerable feeling that I had to get used to quickly.

Thankfully though, all the feedback we received in class was supposed to be constructive. I couldn’t just say “I hate your story” and be done with it. I’d have to explain that “using the same metaphor five times is getting repetitive and you might want to reconsider that. Here are some alternatives.”

And we would gladly point out positive parts of each piece as well.

After a while, the criticism didn’t even bother me anymore because I knew it was necessary. Sure, it wasn’t exactly fun to have a visiting writer tell me that the protagonists of my story were boring. And sure, it wasn’t always fun to hear the class debate whether or not my descriptions made sense. But without it, I never would have improved at all.

I can’t be successful in what I love to do if I’m not willing to get better. Nobody starts out being amazing at anything in the beginning.

When I moved back home from college, I was lucky enough to find a writers group to join. We get together once a month, just the few of us, and share our work and then share feedback. Our group’s writing ranges anywhere from children’s picture books and young adult novels to strange horror short stories and murder mysteries.

Whatever we want to discuss, we bring it to the group. Some days we can get sidetracked talking about punctuation for half an hour, while other times we’ll talk about how to make dialogue sound realistic and age-appropriate.

It’s a positive, encouraging atmosphere even when we’re talking about things we have to fix for next time.

These days, if I give a piece of my writing to someone new for feedback, I’ll tell happily tell them “Feel free to rip it apart. You can’t offend me.”

Getting someone else’s opinion will help me examine my work in a different perspective. It took some getting used to at first, but now it’s extremely helpful.

“Everybody’s a critic,” as the old saying goes. And I say there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.