Feedback or Solitude? Another Dilemma for Writers

I can’t help it. I’m a blabbermouth.

When I am working on a writing project, I can’t hardly wait to finish a chapter before I print it off and start to share it. I corner my wife, harangue my students, bother my daughter, even pester you faithful blog readers just to know that someone, somewhere is reading my stuff.

And that, to me, is the bottom line. That’s really the reason why we write. We want to share ideas, characters, adventure, quandaries with other people. We want to savor the creative experience, yes, but then we want to savor it even more vicariously through someone else’s eyes.

And deep down I know it is a mortal sin, at least to some writers. Hemingway and countless other “real” writers would never show anyone anything until they had survived multiple edits and countless drafts. And even then it was painful for them to reveal their project to the world. The old saying goes: when is a manuscript ready for publication? When the writer edits the same commas out and then back in the manuscript.

I will have to confess that I am not a purist when it comes to writing. In some ways, you could probably say I am a hack. Being someone who comes from the communication discipline, it’s not about making beautiful poetry with my prose. It’s about learning the best, fastest, most effective way to get my brilliant idea from point A (my brain) to point B (your brain). And somewhere I probably miss some steps.

But I do have to argue that there comes a time when feedback is helpful, nay, instrumental, in getting your writing back on track. I can recount several novels that I started with high hopes only to discard because (a) I couldn’t find the inspiration to keep going; or (b) someone else didn’t see the point I was trying to make. I am convinced that a writer has to be a salesman of sorts, and the first person he has to sell on his story is himself. If he can’t sell the idea–visualize it, fantasize it, picture it in Technicolor 3-D–then it is a stillbirth waiting to happen.

There have been a few projects that I believed in so strongly that I continued and finished them even when I couldn’t get anyone else excited about them. But I will be the first to admit that telling a potential reader about a story idea and then seeing the light go on in their eyes is a major rush for a writer. Then it’s simply a matter of dealing with the inevitable question: can I deliver?

I know that my writing could be much better if I kept it to myself until it was letter perfect. At least in theory. But I also know that I would have a hard time keeping motivated to write if I had to struggle on a project for a couple of years with no feedback, all the time wondering if I was wasting my time.

The bottom line is: you have to find what works for you.

One thought on “Feedback or Solitude? Another Dilemma for Writers

  1. Like usual, you couldn’t have said it better. This post made me smile hard, especially the “corner my wife, bother my daughter, harangue my students” part. I love seeing that light go on in another person’s eyes too, and it wasn’t until I came to SWAU that I was finally able to feel that rush of excitement — the “Oh! They get it!” But, ah, there is that one question: “can I deliver?” Perhaps Hemingway wouldn’t agree with sharing unfinished stories, but we can’t all be Hemingways.

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