I would guess that most people, in general, surround themselves with a bubble. It’s probably a bigger bubble for those who are self-conscious or who engage in any kind of activity in which they’re offering up a piece of themselves to complete strangers. But, let’s face facts, we’re all looking for validation in some form or another, so at some point we have to let the bubble go.
I’m not great about sharing my writing.
Part of that might come from my time in grad school. A big chunk of what you do as a graduate student in creative writing is share your work with your class. The vast majority of the feedback you got in those two years came in workshops.
Run and go watch the beginning of Wonder Boys real quick. Go on, it will take two minutes. Back? What you just watched (assuming you own Wonder Boys, as it’s not available streaming anywhere online, even for money) is a pretty accurate depiction of what a creative writing workshop is like. Generally speaking, none of the people in the workshop are very good writers, thus being in the workshop, which makes the feedback they give suspect right off the bat.
Everyone in a workshop wants to seem smart, so everyone in a workshop tries to do that by making really amazing, incredibly critical points about your work. Half the time, the points aren’t even particularly valid, but they just keep digging, trying to find something that will make them look good in front of the professor.
Even worse, we’re all writers, so we all suffer from the same fragile egos. If you hand us something that’s genuinely good, it destroys us, because what we’ve turned in is shit in comparison. So we hate you. And we’re not good at hiding our hate.
It kind of surprising that anyone who goes through workshops ever shows their work to anyone ever again.
The workshop is a good example of the difficulties with getting good feedback. Getting feedback in general has never been easier. The internet is awash in writing communities that you can join and share your work with. It’s awash with these communities because it’s awash with people who want to write books, and they are very eager to get their work read, so they’re very eager to read yours.
The problem, then, is figuring out how valuable that feedback is.
It’s a lot like trying to find something to read among self-published books. These days, anyone can self-publish. Even money is no longer an obstacle — talent certainly isn’t. I don’t say that to be mean, but absolutely anyone can publish a book if they want to, but we all know that everyone can’t write. Most people can’t even fashion an e-mail correctly.
When it comes to my work, my wife, Nicole, is the only one who reads all of it. She’s a fantastic editor, who, beyond all other things, possesses a sense of story. That may sound obvious, I know, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it can be to just tell a story. Writers want to write. They want to pull out every trick in that writing box and go to town, but that often gets in the way of telling the story. My wife sees right through that shit and she calls me on it.
I’ve yet to really delve into the online world of peer editing. It’s entirely for the reasons above, not to mention the fact that I can’t imagine having time to read some one’s book, which is something I’d have to do to be fair.
I did, however, fork over ducats to have a published author read a few chapters of Master of the House*. I realize that things like this are generally frowned upon by the writing community, but at least this way I knew what I was getting and who was giving it to me.
Even then, though, I have to take his feedback with a grain of salt. As the aforementioned writer said, “So please follow your own muse, though I do hope that you will find these comments helpful.” In the end, the most important feedback is the kind I give myself. Because in the end, that might be all I’m left with.
* It was excellent feedback, I should add. It’s also done wonders for my confidence, which might be the most important thing I could get out of it.