Deb Amy Says Personal Writing Feedback Isn’t Personal

Years ago (but not so much recently) I left feedback on a particular writing site — where writers posted their work soley for the purpose of getting feedback.

They only posted short excerpts, so this was merely an exercise in “are you hooked?”  and “would you keep reading?”

Now granted, I tend not to grant a lot of leeway.  Even in published work I question what I consider to be glitches and mediocre starts.  So what am I to think if someone posts something for feedback and I have ample questions and would not keep reading if it were indeed in my slush pile or on my bedside table.  But this exercise was for helping writers – if I wasn’t hooked it was my job to say why so perhaps a writer would see his or her work from a new perspective.  Comments included all kinds of lengthy suggestions — wording, phrasing, pace and language.  For one particular entry I commented on some wording that evoked an odd image in my mind.  To me it did not work.  TO ME.  The words did not make sense.  TO ME.  And that’s what I said.  That the noun and verb jumped out at me as ones that did not go together.

I, in no way, ordered the writer to change them.  I’m not a publishing professional and cannot determine what will and will not be published.  I am an editor, and if this was my client I would question this choice of words and ask for clarification.  I’d suggest trying something else.

I did not leave that feedback so that the writer would send me an email (and I had no idea what it was about, or who this person was, until I realized the odd combo of words) to declare that while this person had a lot to learn about writing — he or she knew everything about that topic and NOUNS VERB.

I deleted the email, feeling sorry for the writer.

Nothing personal, writer.  It was my opinion.  I’m a smart cookie and chances are if it didn’t make sense to me there might be someone else who doesn’t get it.  Just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean it is the right choice of words.  It doesn’t mean it’s wrong – except for me.  It was a virtual ‘no they don’t – oh yes they do’ that I was not/am not willing to get into.

I don’t know this person – don’t care if he or she changes the words, writes or publishes.  I had nothing vested.  I offered feedback to strangers on websites as a way to hone my own skills and maybe help someone along the way.   I’ve edited a lot of stories and essays and novel excerpts — so I hoped I could be helpful.

I assume this was a novice writer who just took it too personally.  This might be the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel and it might be that I was way off base and that NOUNS do indeed VERB.  But to me, it’s an image that doesn’t work — and that won’t change.

It was my opinion.

Nothing personal – except to me.

One Reply to “Deb Amy Says Personal Writing Feedback Isn’t Personal”

  1. Amy, one of the things I’ve learned in submitting my work is that we have to pay attention to the comments and then consider the source. If something I’ve written stops a reader, I ask myself why. If the reader is my projected audience, if she has valid reasons, or if it provokes a “Huh?” moment, I think it prudent for me the writer to find another way to craft the sentence/paragraph/chapter.

    I only add those qualifiers because I once received a critique from a writer of bodie-ripper fiction. Because she’d been so heavy handed in her criticisms, I took a look at her writing and then tossed out the critique. But when my critique partners (or my editors) come back with an “Ahem” because I’ve stopped them cold, well, then it’s off with the head of the offending bit.

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