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Bad Feedback

I said before that finding readers is a huge challenge.  There's a second part to that which I've only lightly touched on.  It's the part where you accept your readers' criticism.

There's a writing tip out there somewhere - and I feel terrible that I can't properly attribute it, because it's one of the best writing tips I've ever read - that says that you should focus on the criticism that gives you a defensive gut reaction.  Chances are that the reason you have such a strong feeling is because you already recognize it as the truth and you don't want to admit it.

I like this in theory, but in practice it sometimes just drives me crazy.  There are certain people that always strike a nerve when they give me their opinion.  One person in particular.  Let's just call her "Pat" to avoid any hurt feelings.

Pat is a thoughtful, intelligent woman who has years of experience and wisdom that have proved invaluable in her career.  She is conscientious of everybody's feelings and always tries her best to keep an even temper when offering advice on any topic, whether it's my writing or just an overall life issue.

Pat's feedback is some of the most useless I have ever received.

I want to make it clear that I think she's a good person.  And I always appreciate that she's willing to take time out of her life to read some of my work and give me her input.  I always want to improve, and any reader's opinion should be helpful... right?

Except that a typical exchange usually goes like this:

Pat:  I saw on page 2 where you wrote "She waved her hands as if drawing a diagram on an invisible chalkboard."  I don't think that works.
Me:  No?  Why not?
Pat:  Well, people don't really draw diagrams, do they?

And that's where my brain goes into panic mode.

Brain:  ATTENTION!  This is not a drill!  We have a critical failure in the Vocabulary department!  ATTENTION!  Repeat: this is not a drill!  There has been a critical failure in the Vocabulary department!
Me:  Crap.  Give me a status update.  What's going on?
Brain: It turns out that diagrams don't work that way.  You don't "draw" them.
Me: You don't?  Dammit, I've been saying "draw" a diagram for twenty years now!  What are we supposed to say instead?
Brain: We're still looking into it.  I suggest you use a tone-neutral word like "create" for the time being.

Then I'll try asking Pat for more input.

Me:  What would you suggest instead?
Pat:  Gee, I don't know.  [Giggles.]  I didn't have a suggestion, I just wanted to make sure it makes sense.  Does it make sense to you?  I don't know, maybe I'm wrong.
Me:  Uh....

So now my brain starts backing up.

Brain:  ATTENTION!  Cancel that red alert.  Repeat: cancel the red alert.
Me:  Status update - now!
Brain:  It looks like the Vocabulary department might not have failed.
Me:  Can I use "draw a diagram?"
Brain:  Uh, let's hold on that for now.  We're downgrading this to a yellow alert.
Anger Core:  Guys, this is stupid.  "Draw" is perfectly acceptable!
Brain: Pipe down, AC.  There's no reason to get angry about this.
Anger Core:  Fuck you!  There's always a reason to get angry!

And then the conversation will continue.

Pat:  Also, on page six there's a part where John hides Mike's keys.  I don't think he should hide the keys.
Me:  Why not?
Pat:  It just doesn't make sense to me.
Me:  But Mike is drunk and John doesn't want him to drive.
Pat:  Hmm.... [Thinks about this for a really long time, as if this is the first time she realized that Mike was drunk.]  John should ask Mike to sleep on his couch instead.
Me:  But... he does ask him to sleep on his couch.  He hides the keys for good measure.
Pat:  [Writes a bunch of notes to herself and doesn't show them to me.]  Just something to think about.
Anger Core:  ARGH!  Why do we even listen to her?!  Punch her!  Punch her in the face now!

CYA Alert - I've never punched Pat.

The thing is, as selfish and narcissistic as I can be, I always do take criticism to heart.  The second somebody says something to be me like, "You can't 'draw' a diagram," I'm going to permanently fixate on it.  I'll stay up at night thinking about it.  And when I never actually get better, I just get cranky and even more self-obsessed.

I don't want to say that anybody out there has bad opinions, but... some people just aren't good at giving advice.  I wonder if I fall into that group?