So you’ve sent the chapter to your supervisor and now you have to go and see what they think. You’re pretty pleased with what you’ve done, but when the conversation starts it goes almost immediately to the problems. You want to run away. What do you do?
Your writing group is meeting and it’s your turn to have your writing discussed. Everyone else’s contribution seems to have gone pretty well. Lots of good comments as well as suggestions for improvement. But when it comes to your turn it seems like there is just so much that is negative. What do you do?
Well, Joni Cole has some suggestions. Cole is a creative writing teacher. One of the key pedagogical practices of creative writing courses is The Crit. This is where people share and critique each other’s writing. So it’s important that creative writing groups have rules about feedback, but also that participants are able to deal with the feedback they receive. Cole’s book is called Toxic feedback Helping writers survive and thrive so you can guess from this that the feedback in creative writing is not always as constructive as it might be! Just as in academic writing.
Cole’s advice for dealing with negative f2f feedback is this:
Be open. This means not interrupting the feedback, or defending what youv’e done. It’s OK, she says, to ask questions for clarification. The point is for you to hear and understand what is being said.
Resist the urge to explain. People giving feedback need to concentrate on what is on the page rather than what you are saying about why something is the way that it is. Remember that this is a reader in front of you – but most of your readers won’t be there for you to hear what they are thinking. So hearing direct is a good thing. You are getting an interpretation which you can take away to consider.
Little by little. Because it’s easy to get overwhelmed by feedback, Cole recommends that after the f2f session, it’s important to sift through the comments once, and once only. She then recommends that writers address only one issue at a time, rather than take it all in and try to do it all at once.
Ignore feedback until you are ready for it. Cole notes that some writers need to keep going, rather than stop and fix things up in the writing they’ve already done. It’s not uncommon, Cole notes, for writers to incorporate the feedback into their new writing, as well as letting their subconscious work away on the issues about the completed work that they’ve had critiqued. Then when they come to revise, they incorporate the feedback at that time.
Try out the feedback. Sometimes the best thing to do is to test out what you have been told, Coles proposes, rather than consider it in the abstract. So if the feedback is to write something in a very different way, then try it out and see how it looks to you rather than just think about it.
Give yourself time. When you are dealing with revisions made in response to feedback, Cole suggests that there may come a point where you just don’t know whether you are making things better or worse. She suggests the best thing to do then is to step away from the keyboard and give the writing a break. Sometimes things improve remarkably, she argues, after a good night’s sleep. (pp.24-25)
This all seems like pretty good advice to me and as applicable to academic as to creative writing. It may just help to have Coles’ points in mind when going into that supervision meeting or your writer’s group. And maybe even when reading those written referee comments too.