(For those who missed it, you can read Part I here)

There is nothing in this world quite so precious as good feedback.  To anyone, in any creative field, feedback is a brief moment of calm in an endless storm.  This isn’t the pointless, vitriolic lashing of the average internet troll.  This is the proper, helpful feedback of someone who truly wants your work to get better and isn’t afraid to tell you when you’ve made a terrible mistake.  It’s why any creative individual, I think, needs to avoid ego-boosting ‘yes men’ at any cost.  The risks are many (hyper-inflated ego, destruction of artistic integrity), the rewards are illusory.

It’s why I’m thankful to still be in college and in a position to get the kind of super constructive feedback some people only dream about.  I feel the sweet spot for criticism falls around 10 people, though more always helps.  Fort this piece I received 20 pieces of feedback, and I’ve taken the liberty of deconstructing each of them and boiling them down to their key elements.  My goal here is to spot trends in what works for people and what doesn’t.  If 9 out of  20 people pick up on the same thing, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

So, hit the jump and let’s get to it.

1st feedback: “God, that is a sexy pen”  not letting us know it’s a pen might keep us in suspense.- Ok, reasonable, but then the first sentence lacks bite.  There’s no immediate draw beyond that.

A call for the scene where I actually hold the pen to appear earlier.  I feel like this might be a recurring statement, so I’ll make a note of it.  Basically this piece of feedback was focused on why pens were so important to me on a personal level.  Fair criticism.

2nd feedback: Opening paragraph is crap.  Yeah, already knew that.  More characterization on the pen, more attachment to the kind of people who might use specific pens.  Greater thematic exigence- it currently feels rushed and forced, especially given the fact that it just kind of comes out of nowhere.  Choose a main focus.  I wish you had a stronger voice throughout the piece.  Fair enough.

3rd feedback: What is that picture taped to the wall?  Confusing.  I don’t know what this thing looks like.  The typeface rant is boring, cut that (heartily agree, also, I couldn’t read any of the other feedback offered by this person because their handwriting was so terrible).

4th feedback:Order of the sections is kind of off.  Start off with something personal.  The doctor scene is a compelling scene, and I’d like to see more like it.  The handwritten vs computer section could do with some fleshing out.

5th feedback: I fel the ‘you’ was missing from this piece, your own personal writing style and how things work for you.  How does your writing style relate to the use of pens vs computers?

Alright, just from these 5 bits of feedback we can already see trends emerging.  Scene order is a little wonky and needs fixing, as does the whole sense of my being in the story.  People want the theme to come across more strongly.  This is one of the reasons why I hate writing nonfiction, I cannot stand putting myself into anything I write.  Nonfiction is almost all about the personal and the real emotion behind wanting to write about things, I think.

Let’s continue-This next bunch is comprised mostly from people who were really into pens, so the tone is really different.  Most of their feedback was praise for articulating why they like pens as much as they, or from people who didn’t really like pens, but were really drawn into my piece.

6th feedback:I’d like to see you go a little more into handwriting.  Get a little more into the elements of your own handwriting, that might be interesting.

7th feedback:More scenes and personal elements would really be good.

8th feedback:Great voice, good humour, a it dense at times (fair).

9th feedback:Beautiful-Excellent piece!

10th feedback:Narrator feels somewhat distant, more description on the pens.  More personal experiences with the pen.  Get rid of that part with the typefaces, it’s too much of a digression.

Okay, interesting stuff here.  We see people wanting a little more personality in the piece, though there were a few people who felt the voice was really effective.  I feel that voice is one of those loose terms that tend to get bandied around a lot and are tied to style on a level that neither I nor any of my peers have yet to really reach.  Hunter S. Thompson had a voice, China Mieville has a voice, Asimov had a voice, but they only really developed their voices after years of work and study, and even then, I know people who absolutely hate all those authors, so the subjective nature isn’t really helping.  Anyway, moving on:

11: Piece could be longer.  You digress in a lot of different directions, so I’d to see the piece be a little more focused.

12: Great opening line. More exploration fo the idea that a fine pen like a Waterman is something you must earn rather than buy.

13: More scenes that show the connection between you and the pen.  Give us a greater sense of why this piece interests you so much.

14: Move the first three paragraphs on the fifth page to between the second and third paragraphs on the first page.  Exigency isn’t strong enough, so I felt like I needed a reason to care about nibs and filigree inlays.  Exigency was there when I reached the end, but I’d like to get to it sooner.

15: More focus on the individual pens, elucidate upon the experience of writing.  That makes sense.

16: Nearly all editing fixes, which is a godsend (thanks lady, you’re the best)

Professor’s feedback: Generally positive (she’s way more of a pen connoisseur than I am, actually makes me kind of jealous).

I wis I could know your desire not only for the pen, but for the accomplishment to deserve the pen.  What would that take?  Why do you deserve the pen?

Some crucial moments are missing, like the moment you held the pen in the doctor’s office.  The story of desiring the
“sexy pen” feels like a goal of the piece.  Put a little tension in the story for your love of the pen, then the story will come together.

She had a lot of other things to say, but it was mostly praise I guess to soften the blow of the faults of the piece.  Still, I’m glad she enjoyed it, and her notes on how to make it work for a broad audience, even one that might not like pens is invaluable.

This is really the crux of good feedback, is having it get to the real meat of why a story is or isn’t working.  A good amount of the feedback I received touched upon specific problems or recurred to the point that I know I need to take a hard look at my work. Then comes the hard work of looking at feedback and choosing to consciously ignore their advice.  I can’t please everyone, no matter how many times I rewrite.  I can try and try and try, and in the end someone will complain that my voice wasn’t strong enough or that my style of prose isn’t to their liking.  That’s cool, and a necessary part of controlling myself during the revision process.  If I can get 14 of the 16 people in the class to think my story is the greatest freakin’ thing since Green Hills of Africa, then that’s a victory.

The next step will now be to actually go into the piece itself with my organized feedback as a reference.  The first step  is cutting, followed by marking down places where new prose could be added.  Part 2 proper will cover this, and trust me, I will be putting my red pen to some use.

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