Saturday, 18 April 2015

Reflections on Feedback

I wanted to do a one-month Writeon-out-of-beta post, but first, I want to talk about feedback. Because if I don't, the one month review of the "public" WriteOn would be 90% about the feedback there.

Before I start talking about feedback, I want to tell you a story.

About two NaNoWriMos ago, I wrote a story. The first few chapters got good feedback on Scribophile and Figment, but after that, things sort of petered out. So, when I got into WriteOn, I uploaded way more chapters there than on any other site. And yes, people had nice things to say about the first few chapters, but one day, one of the members who's opinion I really respect, told me that after a strong start, the middle of the story was a huge mess.


Some other readers were nicer about it, but when I went back to the story, I realised she was right. I cut out 40-50% of the irrelevant stuff, and while the remaining chapters still need work, it's much, much better. (The nicer readers commented on that too - that the tightened version was much better)

The takeaway from this is that while feedback can hurt (and that member was really nice while delivering the bad news), it can really help improve the story. And I've seen this many, many times, both for my stories and for other people's stories.

Which is why I don't understand the people who join a writing site and get upset that not all feedback is positive. There's a writer who insists that her grammar mistakes are a literary device (or something like that, I honestly did not see it), and there was another who basically called me a naive fool for thinking that you have to show things in stories instead of just telling them (I wanted to tell him that I intended to read the whole chapter, but the telling was so much I gave up after 11 pages. But, something told me he wouldn't take it well).

That all sucks, but it's nothing compared to what some other members go through. I've seen one member (let's call her A) tell another (Member B) to eat wolfsbane for daring to give feedback (on member C's story), because Member B told C that there were too many grammatical errors. Seriously? Woflbane is poison, so to me, member A basically told member B to "go and die", all for a review. As it is, I've reported the comment, but it's still up on the site. Member C has not commented on that (although it has one upvote), but her reply to Member B was basically "Put up work scary WHY YOU MEAN?" (I'm paraphrasing. Obviously) What happened to building a supportive environment?

To go all full-disclosure and stuff, I happen to agree with member B's feedback, because I like stories to be readable with regards to grammar (it read, to me, like something passed through a bad google translate). The feedback wasn't that mean either, there was no snark in it.

Oh, and I should mention, in above instances, the members who reacted negatively were soliciting for feedback, through requests and/or the "feedback wanted" button. Not one of them said "I only want people who like this work to comment. If you don't like it, don't comment." Personally, I would have much less of a problem if they did that, instead of asking for feedback then snarling when it's not 100% positive.

Yes, putting your story out there can hurt, and yes, people not liking what you write can hurt. But before you start yelling "hater" or "fool" or "go eat wolfsbane", take a look at your story. The feedback may or may not be useful. I know I don't use all the feedback (not all readers are your audience), and I may think some are unwarranted comments, but I make it a point to thank everyone who does take the time to comment, and I consider all comments before deciding whether to accept or dismiss them.

I should add here that the authors here are still a very small minority.vThe authors I all interact with regularly are lovely people, and very understanding. I've had one tell me, "Eustacia, it's ok if you don't like the work, I already know not everyone will like it." <- Backstory: I already committed myself to reading the whole thing, but then I realised it's not something that appealed to me. It's well-written, but there are aspects of the book that I disagree with (with regards to my faith).

But still, a very small minority can chill a community, especially one that's still growing. At least two authors have stopped giving/drastically cut down on feedback after attacks (and that's a pity, because their feedback was very detailed and insanely useful). I'm worried that WriteOn will lose what made it great - the space for people to give honest feedback about the things they read (*).

So yeah, this is all. While I understand the (temporary) hurt that can come with constructive/not totally positive feedback, I personally think it's great that people are willing to be honest with me and tell me what doesn't work. I know I'm a better writer for it.

I'm still optimistic about the site. Just slightly ... down at this turn of events. 

*: Ok, not totally all. I thought of something while thinking about feedback, but since it's not really related, I'm making it a footnote/asterisk of sorts. I was wondering about why I stopped being so active on Figment, when there was a time I basically checked it every hour, something like how I am with WriteOn now. I realised that one reason (not the reason, but it probably played a part) may have been finding the first toxic person who wants to write there. I wasn't attacked or anything, but someone I was giving feedback on was, and I now remember thinking, "Oh, why would I want to be part of this community".

P.S. I didn't include screenshots because I can't really be bothered to redact names and stuff. Besides, I didn't write this to pick on people, I'm writing this to work through what happened and figure out what I think about it. Sometimes, the brain doesn't organise itself until words are written down.