I love feedback on my writing. Doesn’t everyone? That’s the idea, right? That all writers love reviews, love feedback, love hearing from readers. And I think writers often believe this is true of themselves.
Then some author goes apeshit on a reviewer and no one really re-evaluates the universal truth that authors love feedback.
I wasn’t the darling of the few fiction workshops I attended. I didn’t write deep thematic stories, rife with symbolism and metaphoric language. I wrote straight-forward stories where people more or less said what they meant, or thought what they meant and said something else, something intentionally misleading. I offered a story to the reader without requiring any level of puzzle-solving, because puzzles in fiction aren’t really my bag. Layers of meaning? Sure. But tell me a story, give me something to hang onto.
I’ve been reading for many years. And I’m a decent hand with critiques, as well. Before publishing a few months ago, I’d never received feedback on a “finished” story, never received a review, or an apologetic email with a typo. I knew I could manage feedback in fiction workshops to varying degrees, and I knew that I continue to challenge myself to improve with every story, to tighten my language, to expand the bounds of my comfortable plot lines. But as to whether or not I really craved feedback, I couldn’t have said with certainty.
The folks in a fiction workshop have to give you feedback. But if someone out in the world chooses to spend their time not only reading your story, but thinking about it, and then writing about it? That’s intense.
Now? I’m addicted. An old math teacher of mine recently read a novel I’m still working on, and stymied by. (Known here as “the ghost story.”) Despite it not really being his thing (“For the next one could you have some heterosexuals, please?”), he finished it, and then he called me on the phone.
“Do you want me to tell you it’s good?”
“How long have we known each other now? Why the hell would I come to you if I just wanted someone to blow smoke up my ass?”
So he gave me a pretty awesome mix of “this worked” and “what the fuck?” And you know what? Man, I ate that shit up. More, more, more. Tell me more. I can’t find the place in my brain where I’d be offended by someone telling me something in my story didn’t work, though when I read reviews of stories I particularly enjoy, I’m able to access both rage and the very distinct desire to propose a duel. (“Oh, really? You couldn’t connect to Sam Keller?” [glove smack] “I demand satisfaction!”)
My amazing proofreader (whose services I will someday pimp here, when she’s got a working business up) will chime in with a “Didn’t understand this” comment here or there (or there, and there, and there again), and every single time it’s an opportunity to tighten something up, to adjust the language for precision. And that’s the job, man. That’s the job of a writer or artist, and long before anyone but me read my stories, that was still my focus. Because Future Kris was kind of a bitch about language, and I wanted to write something that I wouldn’t have to later hate myself for, or challenge myself to a duel. If only because violating the space-time continuum is such a pain in the ass.
I no longer think it’s a truth universally acknowledged that all writers love feedback. But for me? Man. I’m fucking hungry for it. Mind you, I might sing a different tune when someone on GoodReads rips me a new one, but even then–thank you for reading, and taking some of your time to review. That shit is serious. And we’re all here trying to advance the cause, which is reading good books.