I had the good fortune earlier this week to attend the meeting of a new writing group. It’s been a while since I’ve been part of one, and it was nice being able to once again interact with other writers and engage in casual discussions about our respective projects before moving on to the focus of the evening. Since it was my first time attending, I’d opted to stay in the role of observer/commenter, rather be than one of the four-to-five who brings pages for review.
Following a brief table read, the group then offers up its collective comments. This week’s selections weren’t bad, but each set had room for improvement. Some maybe a little more than others.
When I got the opportunity to toss in my two cents, I talked about what stood out for me and what I thought needed work, making a point of being nice about it.
Others chimed in with their opinions and suggestions, not all of which I agreed with. While I may have been thinking “That’s not right,”or “That doesn’t make any sense,” my lips remained sealed. I didn’t want to come across as the pompous know-it-all. It’s important to make a good first impression, no matter who you’re meeting.
When the meeting was over, I talked to the guy who organizes it (we were in a different writing group years ago), saying I’d hoped I wasn’t too obnoxious with my comments. “Not at all,” he said. “A lot of these folks are newer writers, and you told them some things they needed to hear. It’s the only way they’re going to get better.”
It’s been my experience, and hopefully yours, that getting feedback from an actual person is beneficial on several levels. Chances are you’ll know something about that person’s background and experience, so you can put the appropriate level of merit into what they have to say. And unless they’re a jerk to begin with, they might be a little less harsh with their comments than if it was an online forum, where for some reason people have no problem letting loose with vitriolic criticism and put-downs.
If you asked somebody for feedback, wouldn’t you rather the notes were helpful in a supportive way, rather than “This sucks! What makes you think you can write?” That would be pretty devastating, right?
Now imagine that situation reversed. A newer writes comes to you, asking for notes. Do you think “They don’t realize how fortunate they are to have the wonderfulness of my vast superior knowledge bestowed upon them!” or “I used to be where they are. How can I help?”
My advice: opt for the latter. Both of you will be better off for it.