by Meg Dowell
When we share our work with others, we are usually looking for one thing: feedback.
Constructive criticism is an important part of the writing process. Without it, we might still be able to improve, but we’d do so at a much slower and less specific rate. Having someone hand us back our work with specific notes on things we can fix and improve on isn’t always easy, but over time we get used to it. If we can find a good feedback source. And that’s a big IF.
Why is feedback–good, helpful feedback–so hard to find? At least, early on in the game? It isn’t because editors and other writers don’t enjoy giving feedback (sometimes, that’s the most fun part about it). It isn’t that editors and other writers have no interest in supporting their peers.
It’s just that…really good, really helpful feedback? It takes a LOT of time.
I’ve been an editor for a long time. When I was still an intern, my favorite thing to do was give detailed feedback to my writers. When that and school were my only responsibility, I could spend hours on just giving feedback alone.
I can’t, unfortunately, do that anymore. I’m not one to use busyness as an excuse (trust me). But prioritizing these days is essential. As much as I would love to go through every single article posted on our magazine’s website daily and give suggestions, I just can’t. I have editors underneath me who do that. They do a great job. I can trust them. That doesn’t mean I don’t still wish I could work with every writer individually. It’s my job to help them improve, but most of that is done indirectly.
If I could read and respond to every single article one of my editors and writers publish, if comments and requests didn’t pile up, if there weren’t so many other priorities, I would. But if I spend a large chunk of time giving the most thorough and helpful feedback possible to one person, it’s only fair that I do the same for everyone. And in my case that just isn’t possible.
THAT’S why finding people to read and respond to your work is a pretty trying task. We all want to give you amazing feedback. It just isn’t possible.
Don’t take it personally when your requests for feedback go unanswered, or any feedback you do get seems halfhearted. I never did get feedback on the creative writing portfolio I turned in as my senior project in college. I’m not bitter about it (anymore). I get it now. Even two pages is a lot to get through. 30 pages would be quite a feat. And more pages just piles on more work.
When you do reach out for feedback. give your “editor” one specific thing you want feedback on, to make it easier for them. Are you worried about grammar and spelling? Character development? Continuity? Give them one thing to focus on so you both will have a better experience.
Meg Dowell is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.