Do you fear feedback?

As promised, I wanted to keep you up-to-date with my writing process. I am at that wonderful stage in my first manuscript where I have written, rewritten, revised and reduced and definitely now need someone else’s objective eye to help me take the draft to the next step. I certainly feel more comfortable with the word feedback for this activity, as opposed to critique. Not being the most thick-skinned of individuals, the latter already has me on the defensive, back against wall, manuscript clutched protectively to chest! (I know, I know I am working on getting over the red pen recollections ;)).  Even the most experienced writers still seek out input for their work. Emma recently did a great blog post about appropriate parameters and expectations if you are going to enter into a feedback partnership or group.

At this stage I am being pretty cautious about choosing those to whom I will show my work. I will certainly be seeking the help of a professional editor, but first I took the advice from my writer’s course, JWFK, and sought out a different appraisal group; a group of Grade 2 kids from the school where I work. I didn’t know a group of 7 year-olds could get me so nervous. I had made a dummy picture book from my manuscript, having manually cut and pasted the sentences fairly evenly spread over just under 32 pages (no illustrations, well Ok I cheated, I did stick a picture of my protagonist onto the front cover so the students had something to identify with). The class was not all mother-tongue English, which I knew could be a challenge for some of the vocabulary I had chosen to use, but they were excited about having their opinion valued by a “writer” and they listened attentively.  I surreptitiously observed the group the entire time, looking for telltale signs of boredom or miscomprehension. One word did provoke a “what does …….. mean?” but I was impressed with how they handled the other difficult words through the context. They have a wonderful feedback system already in place, “Two Stars and a Wish” or two pieces of encouragement and one area for improvement.

There was a general dichotomy between what the girls and boys liked. The boys loved the pivotal moment which is action driven, and they wanted many more details here than I had included! The girls liked the more creative and relational moments. They gave me one or two clear areas for improvement, above all where I had been too reductionist in my text. Their non-verbal feedback was also priceless, showing me a central section that needed truncating and simplifying. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable this exercise of reading your text to a group of children is. Reading to your target audience is a sure-fire way to test if your story is truly child-centered. Of course not all advice can be taken on board. The story is about a sea otter and one little girl wanted to add lots more animals. I couldn’t quite visualize her kitten in my plot!

My next feedback giver will be a 12-year-old multi-lingual Italian, whom I have tutored for years. She is a gifted writer, creative writing being our favorite subject of all those we study together. I can trust her for some honest and humorous evaluation.

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7 Responses to Do you fear feedback?

  1. Joanna — you have found some excellent opportunities for feedback! I love the kids’ Two Stars and a Wish.

    I am very definitely lacking in the realm of feedback from children. I’ve known I need to remedy this for a long time, but I’ve been hesitant… I must just do it. I’ll start by checking the school board’s website for volunteer opportunities.

    Thank you for this illustration of just how valuable — and necessary — sharing one’s work with children is.

  2. Joanna says:

    Beth, I procrastinated for a while on this (mainly through nerves!) but I am so glad I just did it, as you say. It will be interesting to see how open your local primary schools would be to this. Do they have story-time at your local library? I realize how fortunate I am in having access to classes of K-12, and very willing teachers. The Head of Primary was more than willing for me to come back again with other stories!

  3. Patricia Tilton says:

    You are fortunate to have access to a classroom of kids. I shared my story with a 13-year-old girl who loves to write and wins competitions in “Power of the Pen,” for students in the U.S. It was helpful, but she was used to writing short stories. She didn’t understand why I didn’t use adjectives. So, I shared with her how writing children’s picture books was a different style using action verbs to tell the story. She did have some good ideas.

  4. Joanna says:

    Pat, I do like how kids and teens are very direct in their suggestions and not scared to ask questions! You have also given me the idea that I really should encourage my tutee to enter some writing competitions. Thanks!

  5. What a great group to get feedback from! Pricelesss… and well done you! 🙂

  6. Joanna says:

    It was scary, Rach, but I am glad I did it and will do it again 😉

  7. Patricia Tilton says:

    Rachael,
    There are many writing competitions for youth. I know our local newspaper will sponsor its annual short story and poetry writing contest in late March for youth, teens and adults. And, my young friend who competes through her school in “Power of the Pen” is headed for regionals. This child is brilliant but gets into trouble with teachers because she is ADD and is easily distracted. Writing has saved her and given her so much self-confidence. I read a poem she wrote at age ll and could not believe the depth of her thoughts and ability to set them to verse.

    Pat

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