In my last blog post, I wrote about the importance of community and sharing. This time I thought I’d discuss what happened when I opened up with my writing and started showing it to other people.
In the interest of full disclosure, I had shared my writing when I was a teenager to supportive but non-effusive praise, which was fine because I knew that what I was doing was fantastic (obviously). As age and reality kicked in, I started to see the gaps and began to have more doubt than confidence. I enrolled in a BA in Writing, so when I started sharing my newer stories I was showing my work to other students in writing classes.
This made a difference because it was a cohort who was sensitive to the problems inherent with sharing and giving/receiving feedback, and it made for a more supportive environment (or at least some slightly more tactful feedback). Obviously in a group where people are still learning to be tactful there have been a few clunkers, but instead of taking them to heart you take the opportunity to give feedback on their feedback. It sounds exhausting (and at points it was), but like any skill it needs work, and the better you get at giving feedback (not criticism, remember that!), the better you get at receiving it.
One crucial thing I learned about the feedback process was that my work on a particular piece of writing didn’t reflect negatively (or positively) on me as a person. The act of writing is about trying to transmit a thought to another human being – if you’ve failed to do that, it’s not because you’re bad at it or because your thought isn’t worth sharing, it’s just that you didn’t send your message in a way that was received properly. Learning to leave your ego at the door to your feedback or critique group is essential, and it makes you more receptive to what people have to say.
I became a lot better at reading between the lines as well. If there were things I was worried about and people didn’t mention them, I became proactive in asking about them rather than assuming they were okay. If a piece of writing seemed like it had missed every possible mark, I took to asking people what their concerns were with it. Often a little bit of context (note: just a bit, it’s not about spending twenty minutes explaining the protagonist’s backstory) can help people to give more applicable feedback than just dumping a novel on the table and asking why people aren’t buying it.
Opening up has taught me to be more confident in my writing, and to accept that it has flaws on the first draft (and often right up to the final one). That’s why we have the term ‘first draft’, we’re acknowledging that it’s more about getting an idea on the page than producing something perfect, and that we’re committing to a piece of writing.
Be bold, and be willing to fail. Find people whose opinions mirror your intentions. I don’t want someone to tell me that my creative non-fiction doesn’t take them out of their day-to-day life, that’s not what it’s about. I don’t want somebody telling me that it reinforces societal norms and I should be trying to challenge those with every word on the page – that’s not what I’m about. But if someone tells me that something sounds too foreign or contrived, I need to listen to that advice because I’m aiming for honesty and believability.
I know that we all want to show our first draft to someone and have the ceiling open up to confetti and a parade celebrating the unadulterated genius we’ve committed to the page. Sadly, it rarely happens (well it never has for me), which means that we need to be dedicated to feedback and constant refinement.
But while producing better quality work (at least I hope) has been nice, the most important thing I found is that I’m surrounded by talented, interesting people who are writing amazing things. And they’re not sure whether what they’re writing is any good or not (it generally is) and they need a bit of feedback and confidence to keep pushing forward. There’s a real talent bunch of people in Ballarat, and I think that the more we share with each other, and the less afraid we are, the more we’ll see it, and the better we’ll all get.
Rebecca Fletcher is the Ballarat Writers Publicity Officer and a permanent fixture in Australian universities. She likes turnips, squinting at Excel and hiding from deadlines.