Hello and welcome back folks.
After reading through two posts that correspond to each other, I’m compelled to throw in my 2 cents. I’m not speaking from any kind of authority on writing (or anything else for that matter), and that is an important disclaimer to make, as by the end of this post I’d like the reader to reflect on the essence of writing, the value of feedback and “Sainthood”.
The post that started it all is “If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop” by Shannon Reed on BuzzFeed, in which the author presents a fictional person, giving fictional feedback to Jane Austen on “Pride and prejudice“.
Well, there is an inherent flaw with this theoretical post. It is that the author supposes that an individual will give Austen this particular feedback. Can another author propose an entirely different kind of feedback? Would it not serve the post better to pose that opposite kind of feedback as an alternative?
Now, I know that the author simply meant to use this as an example for feedback that is, in fact given to writers these days at workshops around the world, and to be honest, I’ve seen that kind of feedback, among many others in various forums.
On top of this post by Shannon Reed, another post was written. “Jane Austen, Programming Languages, and Being “That Guy” in the Writing Class” by The Incompetent Writer.
In this post, the author elaborates on the types of feedback coming from different groups of people, and proposes a reasoning that could be compared with choosing a programming language. I found the post very interesting and the comparison refreshing. But I still have a couple of things to say on the matter.
Both posts revere Jane Austen’s text. Why should they not? The numbers don’t lie. “Pride and prejudice” doesn’t just stand the test of time. It passes with flying colors and a parade. The same could be said for other masters of the craft. For me, enough cannot be said for Isaac Asimov, or Robert Silverberg.
But let me raise a couple of questions:
Is it possible that, somewhere in this universe, exists a person who dislike Asimov’s writing? I know. Shocking. Could there be someone who dislikes… wait for it… Jane Austen’s?
Another question with your permission – Once a writer finished a novel and published it. Does that make it perfect?
Let us leave these questions open and get back to the workshop.
I guess it really depends on which workshop one attends, and I will replace the word “workshop” with the word “forum” because I suspect we all have a varying definition of what a workshop is. I’ve been to a few, none of which even resembled the experience as described in the two referenced posts.
So, to use a person who I do see as an authority on writing – Stephen King – I think great value can come from feedback. A writer can benefit greatly from other eyeballs reading his text. To follow-up on the comparison to programming – peer reviews are a very common and positive tool to improve code quality, efficiency and best practice.
Does one have to get that feedback in the form of a workshop? Of course not. Anyway, I think that workshops serve different goals (but that’s another discussion). But feedback should be provided by “other people“. We can call that forums, as it varies between each one of us. Some value the feedback coming from a single individual, others choose a group of people, and so on.
Who can provide feedback? Anyone the writer asks… who’s qualified to give feedback? Anyone the writer asks… Does the provider of said feedback have to be in possession of an academic degree? Does one have to be a successful and prolific writer? Personally I think the answer to both is – no. I know a great many who love Jane Austen without publishing as much as a line of text anywhere.
How should feedback be provided? Well there are two rules in my book:
1. Respectfully. Do not provide feedback on the writer. Provide feedback on the writing.
2. Make it meaningful. “Your work sucks!” is almost as inconsequential as “Your work is great!”.
Other than that, it’s a free country baby.
What do we do with the feedback? This is the real question.
One can listen to the feedback given, smile politely and decide to completely ignore it. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.
One can listen and decide based on the feedback, if that makes sense to him/her and make whatever change he/she deems necessary.
Either way, the responsibility is the writer’s and the writer’s only.
So what about Jane Austen and “Pride and prejudice“? My problem with the use of “Saints” is that by making them so, we essentially set an artificial bar of writing. Even in the best books I read, by the best authors both alive and dead, I see things I think should have been done differently. Do I throw the book in disgust? Of course not. But to say that Jane Austen, Stephen King or even William Shakespeare are beyond criticism is not how I see art. Nor would I accept comparisons such as “who’s a better writer?“. To me, good story telling is good story telling. Whether the telling is done by Isaac Asimov or John Grisham. Who I’d rather read is pretty much my artistic taste and it is as subjective as anyone’s.
These 2 cents were not meant to negate the other referenced posts, which I encourage you all to read. I hope that it helped the discussion.
Your feedback will be valued in the form of comments, shares, and likes.
Until next time,