Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Taking Feedback (Ownership)

"I have to wait a few days, until after I stop hating the people who said it's not perfect, before I can go back to a piece and start to agree with them."
-paraphrase, Jenny

Okay, I've talked about how I give feedback/criticism. It's only fair to talk about how I take it. The truth, you may be disappointed to know, is that I'm usually not bothered by it. My character's motivation isn't clear? Okay, I'll fix it. I've got a logic problem? Oops. Better change that. You hate it with a passion? Hrm... dunno if there's anything I can do about that.

Jenny calls it my poker face. I talk very little when I'm getting critiques. On one hand, because anything I didn't make clear in the piece, as it's written, isn't going to get any clearer in the piece, as it's written, if I explain it verbally. On the other, let's be honest: it doesn't matter what I have to say about it. As soon as I ask other people to read a story, it doesn't belong to me anymore. Said story belongs to the reader. If I wanted to keep it, I should have kept it to myself.

In this perspective, anyone is completely justified in thinking/saying whatever they want about my work, because it's their story now. Sound extreme? Perhaps. Be an English major for a while, that'll help. It doesn't matter what Hemingway thought about Hills Like White Elephants because we own it now, not him. So, I think the reviewing process from that angle. Anything I write needs to be able to stand without me.

I admit, I'm not always passifistic. There are times when I'm getting a critique and think, "Um, no. You're totally wrong." There are times when I refuse to change things just because someone suggested it. Let's face it, not every person is the ideal audience for every work of literature. Sometimes, try as they might, guys have a hard time liking Chic Lit. It's not a shortcoming of either author or said guy, it's just a bad match.

So, if I find myself flat out disagreeing with a critique, I don't worry about it. It's not my fault, it's not their fault, it's just a bad match. So what if Jenny and Oliver are actually agreeing on something, and that something is what's wrong with my story. It's my story, dangit. But wait, didn't I just get into a spiel about how it's not? Whups. Then again, I can justify.

The reader owns the story when they're reading and thinking about something I've written. It's theirs completely. However, I own the story when I'm writing and revising it. So, whatever they think, it's my choice how to revise. The reader owns the product. The writer owns the process. That's where I see the balance and the reason I've got thick skin when I'm being critiqued.

How about you? How do you take criticism? How do you see the reader/writer ownership question? Who does a work of fiction really belong to?


D.B. deClerq said...

Lots of questions today.

I can feel pretty raw after a critique session. I react a lot like Jenny, not wanting to agree with anything said before coming around to seeing what the others are saying. But it takes me a while to get there.

My gut reaction is that fiction belongs to the writer. But I think we've all felt like we own a book we love.

Pithy questions, Ali.

-John said...

Yes, pithy indeed, one time I was feeling pithy and it was just because I was too hot and hadn't been fed in a while.

Anyway, you have to be secure in what you before you have someone read it. That's crucial. You have to know what you want to say, and be sure how you said it makes sense in the way you said it. Otherwise, you're in for a lot of trouble, no matter if the critiques are harsh or encouraging. If you are unsure of the work in the first place, you have no barometer to determine if the criticism is helpful or not.

Then again, if you are sure it's the best thing ever, and everyone says it's crap, then I think at least five minutes of moping around the house is allowed.

As for ownership, think of hardcore comic con goers. Think about the lengths they go, and tell me that the writers own those works. I dare you.

Whittaker Luckless said...

Maybe that's why I never feel hurt after getting critiques, what John said about pithy. I really ought to eat on Sundays.

No, I'm kidding. Maybe what John said about being confident in your work is the thing. I look forward to critiques. Anticipate people telling me what was good and what was crap, and what ought to be rearranged, or left for another project. A highlight of my month.

I sort of just agree with Ali. Once some other folks have read the story, that version, at least, belongs to them. If I don't actually begin revision before I get my feedback back, I do begin to plan what revision I intend to do. My submission just this last time, for example. I don't know as I'll actually wait to hear what you all think before I mail it to a magazine...but I probably will.

Jenny said...

You definitely have to be confident in what you put out there before you put it out there. I, however, have been oddly confident in everything I put out there...which is why it stings a bit when I don't hear "Genius!" because really, that's all I want to hear. Sound cocky? That's because...ummmm...you've gotta be a little cocky.

I don't really hate critiques, in fact, I love it when there's a consensus on 'what's wrong' because then I realize that I've done all right on the whole. It's worse when they're rewriting it from start to finish--then it seems like nothing went right.