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Feedback is a Gift: Part 2 of Growth Mindset for Writers

Now that we have some traction in training our brains to be successful, let’s get back to our mindset.


Growth mindset is the idea that we can train our brains to improve. That some people aren’t born as writers and some are not, but that while some may be born with more natural abilities we all can be successful as writers.


I know it seems like the only advice people give writers is to write (and read), but practice makes our brains stronger. Just like you can begin to train your muscles without any weight, you can do a lot of work on your own this way. However, to get better, we need feedback.


Feedback is a gift.


Let’s pause for a second. All feedback is not equal, and you do not need to take every one else’s opinions over your own.


Feedback should be these things:

1. Helpful

2. Supportive

3. Objective


If feedback is not these things, it can do harm to the work we have done as writers. I would never tell you to give your writing to your middle school bully, your bitter ex, or a person who hates the kinds of stories/characters/genres you write in.


Let’s look at each of these things in turn and talk about why it helps us grow.


HELPFUL:


When I talk to my students, we discuss how it is not helpful to tell people everything is wonderful if it is not. Glossing over things that you found confusing, distracting, or distasteful is never going to help a fellow writer get better.


Our stories live inside our minds, our powerful minds, and often we don’t see the issues in a story because our brain has filled in the missing information for us. We know the inner thoughts of every character, but a fresh set of eyes do not. They can show us where we need to be more specific on paper.


See how it is a gift? Feedback gives you the missing pieces to the puzzle, but only if it is helpful.


Does that mean they can’t point out things they like?


Of course not! It helps us to know what is working well. Do they like how a character talks, or a plot twist, your descriptions, sentence structure? Knowing what is working and why (if they can explain it) is super helpful to our minds because not only will it make our brains make the happy chemicals (HOORAY!), it will also strengthen the patterns in our brains to do those things again.


Our brains don’t know if something is working for others unless we ask others. Especially young people (whose frontal lobes are still growing), have a harder time of thinking of others and it can be really beneficial to them to hear feedback.


However, the feedback should be supportive.


I have stopped using the term critique in my classes because of the connotation. I could see the fear in my students’ eyes when I said the word. We now call it feedback and/or a workshop. We spend a lot of time talking about drafting and works being in progress. I also spend a lot of time working on teaching what supportive feedback is.


Feedback should not be phrased in a way that is hurtful, malicious, or rude. If feedback is given this way, thank the person for their time and walk away. Being a writer comes with a lot of “no” but that doesn’t mean we have to set ourselves up to be hurt.


I find asking things in a question, “What would it look like if….,” “Is there another place this info could be explained…,” “Where is this aspect of this character coming from, I did not see it before, help to convey my thoughts without dragging the other person down. It leaves room for them to understand my feedback without feeling attacked.


It also allows people the freedom to not take my feedback, and that is okay too. Feedback is for opening our eyes to areas of growth, but it does not need to be followed for you to be a good writer. It allows us the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.


Which is why that perspective needs to be objective!


My mom reads all my books, and she is my first editor. But she looks for punctuation and spelling mistakes that my fourth grade teacher would have been disappointed with. While I love my mom with all my heart, she is not objective. I am her baby and she will like the books I write (even if she doesn’t actually like them).


My fiancé is much better at being objective and giving me LOTS of feedback. The only problem here is that I am not objective when he gives it to me, so it is best for us all if he is not the only person giving feedback.


Thus, a writer’s group, or critique group can be wonderful. They also can be toxic, especially if members do not get along or feel they can’t be objective.


What you should look for in a critique group is that everyone is treating everyone’s project the same. The same attention, depth of comments, areas growth/areas of strength.


If feedback isn’t objective it can either make us too confident to see the places where we need to grow (and there by stunt our growth), or it makes us feel badly and we give up.


There is a reason that my students must successfully give Helpful, supportive, objective feedback to class examples before I let them look at another student’s work. I want to make sure everyone’s art is handled with respect and care. You can do this too with any potential group!


And its okay to leave a group if its not working for you.


Now, remember you may hear thing you don’t like, and it may hurt to hear them, but that doesn’t mean the group is toxic. Think about the way the information was presented. Were they supportive, helpful, and objective?




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