This won't be for everyone. That's OK.
Sergeant Butterman? Little hand says it's time to rock and roll.
In a nutshell: gloves-off, balls-to-the-wall, honest-to-goodness frank feedback.
Whether we crave it or dread it, we all know we benefit from helpful feedback.
Readers don't always know why something grips them, or why it loosens its hold on them - but readers who are also writers have a very useful skillset. They can. They're better able to pinpoint what is wrong (sometimes it's something tiny, like a little pebble in your shoe) and they can articulate it.
I say "they". I mean we.
I guarantee you, there are times you squandered this talent and blew smoke up someone's bum (maybe mine) because oh, I can't say that, it would be mean.
In general, I welcome feedback. But there are a small handful of pieces that mean a lot to me. Enough that I want them out there in the world. They deserve to be read. I hope someone enjoys them. But also enough that criticism is harder to take on the chin.
On the other hand - frank feedback is valuable.
That leaves us reader-writers in a pickle. We often don't know which type of feedback to leave. We don't know whether honest criticism will be a boon, or a crushing disappointment. We err on the side of safety, and we find something nice to say, or we keep schtum.
Don't get me wrong. This is one of the good things about this platform - but there is a downside. Which is: sometimes we go without the feedback we would benefit from.
Sometimes we want someone to tell us what is wrong with a piece we've submitted. I know I do, anyway. I want to grow.
Be honest - you've read some absolute tosh on here and said nothing. Probably right here on my own page I expect.
That's because you're basically a nice person. You're a writer - you get it - we put a lot of ourselves into what we do. That can make it very tricky not to take criticism personally, so you tread carefully. I applaud that display of empathy.
Do you have a piece that flopped, and you don't know why?
I definitely do. I brace myself, and the punches never land. I fumble forward, blindly, guessing at what the unspoken criticism might be.
Here's an interesting wee note: I used to ask for feedback all the time, right at the end of the piece where I thank you for reading. It could be a coincidence, but those pieces got far less engagement than my more recent ones, where I have given up asking (because you're all too bally nice).
I've come to realise that an ask for criticism is a big ask. It's asking to engage with your writing in a deeper way. Most people don't want to do that. They want to say something nice and move on to the next piece.
The Value of Sparring
Not only is honest critique a valuable opportunity for learning and growth, but it provides us an outlet for any negativity. We might be in danger of becoming a circle jerk of toxic positivity here. The negative will come out elsewhere. Surely channeling it mindfully in a useful direction is the best medicine.
This is why I chose the boxing ring analogy - a positive outlet for a less welcome aspect of ourselves. We can't just it let run amok, but we do need to find a way to integrate it and make it work for us.
Nothing fancy! There are two ways:
- Leave a link to one of your stories that you'd like to receive the Iron Maiden treatment.
- Critique someone else! If no one else fancies it, I volunteer as punching bag, and already suggested Moonlighting as a piece to flex your critique muscle on. (I've got some really useful feedback, so thank you for that!)
- Submit a piece to Critique dissecting one of your own stories (link to it if it's already out there). Invite others to join you in searing it mercilessly, and hatching a better version of it from the ashes.
- Thoroughly read someone else's story (one they have offered up for the purpose) and critique it in their comments.
Whichever way you do it, use a hashtag (#ironmaidenchallenge) so people who stumble across it don't just think "wow, this person is a piece of work, huh, everyone else seems so nice!"
- Submit first; critique after!
- Only critique others that joined in (ie. they are specifically asking for this type of feedback)
- Critique the piece not the person.
- Be SPECIFIC!
- Keep the goal in mind - to help the person get better.
Thank you for reading!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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