Mythology with Erin

Adventures in storytelling

Tag: feedback

Feedback Strategies: Giving

Feedback is an integral part of the creative process, but unfortunately, it can be one of the hardest. Sometimes, you don’t know what to say to help a person improve, and other times, it can be uncomfortable to blow holes in their entire piece of work. I was always taught to give a feedback sandwich (two pieces of praise with the critique buried in the middle) and I’m surprised to read in my two articles that the technique isn’t very effective. Now I’m curious about how to most easily and effectively convey constructive criticism.

The article “Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback” suggests that instead of critiquing an action or presentation that has already passed, we should give feedback that can be applied to the future. I like this idea a lot because it allows us to move beyond mistakes. There’s no use in wallowing about a bad blog post already published when energy is better spent working on new ones. I also like that the article acknowledges that feedback is almost always taken personally; it can’t be avoided. However, by giving specific advice that is focused on the future, it can be more easy to swallow for the recipient. 

In “How to Give Feedback Without Sounding Like a Jerk,” the author suggests throwing the feedback sandwich out the window because it is disingenuous and cheap. He also says feedback is best received as a dialogue, not a one-sided litany of screw-ups. I like this format because it gives the recipient a chance to respond to the feedback, whether they agree with it or need to defend or explain their prior actions. My favorite part of this article is the author’s suggested opening to a feedback session: “I’m giving you these comments because I have high expectations and I know you can reach them.” I like this phrasing because it is highly respectful of the recipient. It doesn’t sound like you’ve made up some compliment to give to soften the blow. It’s a very mature way of starting to give feedback. Our band director often uses phrases like these before giving instructions or feedback, so maybe it is no coincidence that I consider him one of the greatest leaders I’ve met.

I enjoy giving feedback with other writers because it’s something I’m good at. I’m adept at catching typical mechanical and usage flaws, and I have a knack for rewording confusing phrases and conveying ideas. I took an introductory creative writing class last year, which was filled with both experienced writers and newcomers. In that class, I learned that it is important to be patient as the feedback giver. It can be frustrating to read a story by someone with less experience, but it’s not constructive to tear the piece to shreds. Instead, you must focus on a few criticisms at a time, and you must deliver them in an understanding, forward-focused way.

Despite the death of the feedback sandwich, I think it’s vital for writing feedback to include some acknowledgement of things done well. The praise should never be disingenuous, and it should be specific. When faced with looming revisions, it’s important to know the things that went right in a draft. Did the characters have chemistry? Was that one joke actually funny? Should I keep that experimental sentence? These are things that writers want to know, so they can salvage the good things before the whole draft goes in the bin.

Some of my favorite things to receive in feedback are questions. They help work out confusing events or guide me down new paths. They point out things I may have forgotten to include, and can help me see what’s going on in the reader’s head. This semester, I want to try to ask a few questions about every story that I give feedback on, and I hope I get some good questions in return!

Image: Red editing pen. Source – Pixabay

Feedback Thoughts: Receiving

While I like giving feedback, I’ve always struggled with receiving it, especially if it is critical. I remember being shocked when I turned in my first college creative writing assignment and received a lot of negative feedback and suggestions; I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings of disappointment and hurt that I had. I still don’t like getting criticism, even if it’s genuinely helpful and necessary. 

I’m a notorious perfectionist, so I read this article: What do Students Lose by Being Perfect? Valuable Failure. I liked what it had to say about how expecting students to be perfect actually harms their ability to act independently and solve problems later in life. We need students to take risks in order to grow into adults who take risks because its often those situations that lead to the most progress, innovation, or success. I personally want to be more open to taking risks because I want to work in a creative field. If I’m not willing to take risks, how will I ever be able to write something truly original or exciting? This article also reminded me of a saying from one of my favorite childhood TV shows, The Magic School Bus. In every episode, Ms. Frizzle says, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

I hoped the second article I read could help me with my aversion to negative feedback: Overcoming the Fear of Feedback. I could relate to the scenario in the opening of the post, where a character gives a ton of feedback, but reacts badly to receiving some for herself. I love helping people edit their stories and essays because I think I’m good at it, I want to help them get a better final product, and I secretly think it’s fun to go nuts with a colored pen all over someone else’s draft. However, when I get my own inked-up paper, I’m overwhelmed by fear. I usually can’t even read the feedback until several hours later, when I’m alone and the initial tension has faded. I like that this article provides a process for working through feedback. I think focusing on negative feedback as a process and not an attack on my person, ability, or character would help me work through it in a healthier way.

One of the biggest things about negative feedback that I would like to work on (besides being able to read the negative feedback without having a panic attack) is deciding which suggestions are useful and which are not. Feedback contains false leads, and not all suggestions need to be applied. Sometimes I can feel like I’m expected to make every single revision that is suggested, but that’s not the case. Overall, though, I want to get better at receiving critiques in a graceful and beneficial manner.

Image 1: Feedback Scrabble tiles by Nick Youngson. Source – The Blue Diamond Gallery

Image 2: Feedback is helpful: don’t fear it. Source – Growth Mindset & Feedback Cats

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