Friday, January 30, 2009

On Constructive Feedback

It's easy to lash out. Ever check out a book on Amazon and found a 1-star review that burns a book? Sometimes you'll find that the author responds to that 1-star review with ferocity. I even noticed one author who created a fake identity to respond to a bad review (obvious through textual analysis). A tremendous misdirection of energy.

The point has to do with attacking versus supporting someone's writing and why working at Our Stories satisfies an editor.

Alexis said it perfectly in his essay "Begin, Again" in our Winter 2009 issue. We are sending out our own writing even while accepting, commenting on, and even having to reject work that comes to us.

Embracing a story that works feels good. Writing that email to that writer and saying, "Hey, your story is compelling, the writing clear and sharp, and I'm recommending it for publication," feels amazingly good. But even more rewarding is having an opportunity to focus our love of fiction onto a piece that isn't working, giving that writer a free workshopped story version or just a really long discussion of where in the story we thought elements weren't harmonizing. From experience, we know it's difficult to find even among friends someone who will read, really carefully read, your writing and give feedback. And from us, people who submit can know we're giving unbiased, honest feedback based on our mission to incite revision and to generate a community of writers who actually give a damn about reaching our potential as fiction writers (as Steve Almond comments on in our interview with him).

Finally, let me once again self-indulge by quoting something John Gardner says somewhere (I think in On Becoming a Novelist) about workshops and feedback.

Attacking a work, he says, leads to writer's block--but not only in the writer who was attacked. It also inhibits the attacker.

The opposite, that energizing someone to write also energizes the supporter, is equally true.

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