I’m back in Virginia today, well rested, relaxed, and ready to dive back into life . . . but not yet. . . today, I’m organizing my yarn and cleaning the house a bit. Thank goodness my friend Robert J Peterson has written a final installment in our ideas about critique. Enjoy his wisdom. It’s good stuff.
For me, giving and receiving feedback on a creative work depends on two things: boundaries and fun. I don’t mean to sound glib, but it’s important to remember that revising is the best part of the process. But before I get to that, let’s talk about boundaries.
In ideal cases, when I sit down to receive feedback from a trusted colleague, I’m in the proper headspace to do so. Getting feedback can be tough, and sometimes it doesn’t go the way we hoped. I may be in the minority here, but I can’t just disable my emotions, a la Star Trek’s Mr. Data. I have to do some emotional prep to receive feedback, especially if it’s going to be in person. On the rare occasions when I’ve neglected to do that emotional prep, I’ve found myself to be an exposed nerve who’s liable to miss out on some great ideas.
But when I do that emotional prep — which I submit goes both ways — then the fun begins. I assume that most readers here write fiction, and when it comes to writing novels and short stories, I suspect that they’re like a lot of art forms: They’re all about problem solving.
Some of my most satisfying moments as a writer have happened when a colleague pointed out a problem with my text, and I solved it. The first draft of my second novel, The Island Circus, featured an imaginative but slow-paced second half. During the feedback phase, I happened on a great solution: A framing device that empowered me to speed up the storytelling. To be sure — executing this idea was a nightmare that took months of rewrites, but in the end it made for a much more satisfying narrative.
Let’s look at the other side: When I give feedback, I try to get the lay of the land first. How well do I know this person? What kind of feedback are they looking for? I also try to make sure that my own notes resemble the kind of notes I like to receive. It breaks down like this — more often than not:
• Good notes try to help me write the novel I want to write.
• Bad notes try to force me into writing the novel the note-giver would want to write.
• Good notes are questions.
• Bad notes are suggestions.
Of course, some of the best notes I’ve ever received have been suggestions, but that’s the general idea.
Robert J. Peterson grew up in Tennessee, studied journalism near Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. He’s hard at work on two new books, the YA sci-fi action novel Omegaball and the crime thriller Made of Death. You can find out more about his novel The Odds at TheOddsNovel.com.