Can enough ever be said about the value of thoughtful feedback?
The feedback that generally happens in my writing classes is based on the heard story. The author reads their work and the group respond. That’s pretty standard, and it’s a lovely, if initially scary, experience.
I hope I will always remember my own early experiences, when I rushed through the words that I had sweated over – usually the night before it was due to be read. Terrified and exhilarated at the same time, I set off reading at such a pace that my tutor needed to pause me at the end of the first page, and remind me to breathe.
I credit my good friends Ruth and Lynda, who between them coached me through the ‘Story-telling’ module at University, with the fact that I can now read at a more measured pace (thanks pals). But that’s another story altogether.
Crimson and gasping as I invariably was at the end of those early reading slots, I went back for more, week after week. What drew me? Well, aside from the joy of finding other people creating stories and poems in their spare time, and the stretching of my creative horizons that happened during writing exercises, I had an audience for writing that until then, I had mostly been doing in secret.
This was not family or best-friend feedback. My fellow scribblers responded with constructive, impartial support. I began to see where my writing worked, and how it could be improved, which both encouraged and challenged me to work harder. I became more confident about my ability to put words together, and critical of what I was doing.
The next level of feedback is to look at the story, rather than listen. That way, what happens on the page is the story.
Sounds obvious? Well think about how much the ‘telling’ style directs us. Delivery (the pauses, accents and intonations), plays a part in how we respond to the events being described. It is one speaker’s interpretation of what those marks on the page mean.
So this week the aim is for no reading out-loud in my class. Each writer will have a paper copy of the homework-writings to study and respond to.
This is a big step to take, but an interesting one. To sit quietly and hear what someone else understands you to have said can be challenging, particularly if they’ve seen something you didn’t intend. Does that mean they’ve missed the point, or, have you?
Perhaps you’ve not written that scene clearly enough: or is it that depths have made their way instinctively into the construction of your writing? Sometimes, it takes a reader to see the writing road that you’ve side-stepped, and what better reader than another writer?
Photo from, 1952 film, The Importance of Being Earnest. Dorothy Tutin and Joan Greenwood.