Words From The Wise


In my local writer's group, we got to talking the other night about advice. My take was probably not very encouraging:

  • Most people are not equipped to give good feedback about one's work.
  • Very little advice given is actually worth taking.
  • it takes some trial and error on the writer's part to find people who can provide worthwhile feedback.

The first problem is just a reflection of how most other people, even many other writers, are not themselves good analysts of other peoples' work. Very few people are qualified to give useful story advice because they think the main function of a story is to entertain themand they aren't inclined to think too deeply about how even that process works. If something fails them, they have a hard time articulating why. They may even have good taste, but if they can't explain their inclinations or translate that into good guidance, their enthusiasm is going to be as useless as their disdain.

The second problem is a function of the first. Few know how to process what they take in, and even fewer know how to turn that into useful advice. If they dislike something (taste) and suggest an improvement they know they'll like (again, taste), you've essentially customized the work to them and them alone. Advice has to come from a place larger than the person's prejudices or preferences.

The third is the most disheartening, because it means the process of seeking feedback is just that, a process — not just getting the feedback itself, but finding people worthy of giving it in a useful way. A lot of toss and test is involved. You will want to hang for dear life onto the few people you find who pass muster and can give you good insights into your work.

I've been through a few cycles of this quest. Early on, I found myself bombarded not with advice or feedback but criticism — this doesn't work, that doesn't work, that's too slow, that's stupid, that doesn't make any sense. Nothing useful. I admit, I didn't take it well, but it was plain most of what I had been given wasn't actionable in any useful way. Nobody told me what would have worked or why; nobody gave me pointers about where to look for good models to follow. I spent a good long time being embittered about that experience, even if I also knew full well the work I'd stumped up at the time was inferior.

Later, I found myself in a position where people were only too happy to give me advice. I ignored all of it, because none of it had any bearing on actually making the story better. It was all what the person in question liked and didn't like. No analysis.

Finally, I found a circle of people who had the right mindset — they could separate the idea of reading for pleasure from reading for the sake of being constructive and insightful, and they knew how to give good, specific advice. It's with their aid that I reached the position I'm in today. The least I can do is return the favor.


Tags: advice  criticism  feedback  writers  writing 


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2019/01/30 17:00.

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