Happy valentine’s day! As I sit here awaiting delivery of my dozen red roses (not a big ask as they’re only six quid from Tesco, hint hint) I feel it would be topical to touch upon matters of the heart. More specifically, the emotional aspects of getting feedback from our readership.
I do a lot of non-academic writing. Some of it is private writing, but much of it is intended for a wider audience. Although I’ve been writing for a long time, it is only recently that I have managed to use feedback really constructively.
Part of the block in my feedback loop has been to do with the difficulty of the writing process. Yes, writing is pretty difficult, even for those who are much garlanded. It’s not something that one can ever nail definitively. For a long time, I recently realized, I was unconsciously wedded to the idea that my readers should somehow recognize this and praise me for it. Of course, unless my reader happened to be a close friend or my mum, this usually didn’t happen. I was quite adept at dismissing critical feedback by thinking things like, “Oh, this person obviously doesn’t at all get where I’m coming from. I’m going to show it to somebody more simpatico.” When in fact it’s my job as a writer to place my readers in a position whereby it’s crystal clear where I’m coming from. And a reader is of course only interested in the quality of their reading experience.
It seems to me now that previously I wasn’t able to utilize my readers’ experience to improve things because I was too attached to the notion of praise and averse to the sting of criticism. But it gradually became clear to me that by ignoring my readers’ responses, I had become a pointless onanist among writers.
Now when I write, I try not to fall in love with any particular part of my output (I notice that self-indulgence in a writer is never a pretty spectacle). Nor do I seek to give credence to any pejorative feelings which may arise. I just sit there, scribbling, and allow those emotions to wither, ignored. Writing for me is no longer about seeking emotional peaks and avoiding troughs, but about the need to communicate what’s important. If someone criticizes me, I try to respect their experience and use their wisdom. My writing doesn’t come any more easily as a result of this change in perspective, but its quality has improved a lot.
As a final note, I have found university tutors to be generally benign and helpful readers whose feedback is easy to use.