How To Series

Tips on getting feedback and advice

Copyright © 2016 Dorian Scott Cole

   About this series.

Getting feedback is essential to writers. Advice and feedback can be incredibly helpful or incredibly destructive. Writing is a highly competitive world, and while there a lot of very nice and helpful writers, there are some who shouldn't be let out of their cage, even at night. This is especially true in social media and the Internet.


How does feedback help people?

On the positive side, feedback can not only tell people what they are doing well, it can help them understand what needs improved, sometimes even how to improve it, and can help launch a career in writing. On the negative side it can make people think things need changed that don't, and dump enough invective on them to stop a career in its tracks.

Personally I usually look at criticism in three levels: 1) encouraging beginners, 2) full feedback to intermediate level writers, and 3) finesse and marketability. Often I combine 2 and 3.

A friend of mine was raised by a mother who never had a positive thing to say about anything she had done, but always noted what wasn't done well. As a result, my friend never felt that what she had done had value. It couldn't because it was never good enough. As an adult, she was never able to believe anything she ever did had any value to others. So she belittles everything she does, and doesn't try to do other things. I have other friends whose teachers made fun of them in courses like math, or even called them stupid. They ceased to do well in math or other courses. This is what the wrong kind of critique does.

My mother once told me that I was the kind of person who always completed what he said he would do. From that day on, I made sure I did. I became the path that I set for myself, which was really set by my mom. Feedback shapes people's futures for good or bad.

Most people develop a sense of self esteem through their accomplishments, and because people close to them provide good feedback. Others have their self esteem injured through getting a repeated sense of failure and through people who give them negative feedback. They spend their lives straining to develop what Freud called the "ego." They may never get beyond that stage. On the other hand, some people are filled with hot air from parents and teachers who reward everything. They develop false esteem, which is very fragile, and rarely promotes accomplishment. There has to be a balance between enough positive feedback and enough constructive feedback.

Both positive and constructive feedback are essential to self esteem. They help people understand their competence level, and how to evaluate (or receive evaluations) on their work.

Writing is a rough world, and writers, actors, and other creatives, have to learn to take the jabs from others and channel them into positives or reject them. Writers will meet a lot of people who don't have their best interests at heart and will try to tear them down.

One type of person writers will meet, and I have seen them frequently since 1980 when I got serious about the business of writing, is the pop-up expert. This person has some experience, or has read a lot of books, and believes that their small corner of experience applies to everyone in all situations. It doesn't. There are many successful ways to write a story, and many ways to get them published or produced. There is no single sure-fire method to do anything, not even Save the Cat.

One famous quote from Hollywood is, "Nobody knows anything...... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one." William Goldman. For me, after starting in the technical fields, I have been a counselor, a writer, a senior development analyst, a literary agent, a trained actor, a publisher, a graphic artist, a Web master, an animator, a producer, and have written books and Web sites on writing and production... with formal university or other education in many of these, yet I have big gaps in my knowledge and I learn something new every day. I depend on others. The first thing you should know as a writer is that you can't know everything.

Another type you will experience is the polarized zealot. They know the only way to do things, and they will spend endless time and energy trying to convince you, arguing, and calling you names.

Another type is the outlet and genre expert. They write in a certain genre and publish through a certain outlet. They believe that you can only be successful by writing and publishing their way. In reality, even genres have many subcategories and styles.

Another type is the parrot. Everything they hear from others, they repeat like a parrot, whether it is true or not.

Another type is the business owner. They run a business, so no one can possibly know anything but the expert, them.

Another is the bitter has-been. Nothing you do can possibly work, because it didn't work for them.

Another is the pompous critic. Many critics are good, although they usually don't represent your audience. But the pompous critic believes he knows everything about the industry and has the highest standards, and he couldn't possibly be bothered to say something nice about your work because saying nice things isn't the done thing. It isn't what his audience expects from him.

Many others are newbies, self-proclaimed experts, wannabes, poison pen artists, and others who either share half-baked ideas, or deliberately try to tear you down, or don't want you to succeed. The Internet and social media, where relationships are impersonal, are full of these people who will critique your material. Be cautious. They can also discourage you and end your career.

Never take just one person's opinion about anything. And when you see heated arguments and belittling people or their work, just move on. Nothing good comes from joining in. Don't bother arguing with the writers like these I described. Say, "Thank-you for your opinion," and don't say another word.

More on getting feedback: Where to Get Help

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