My grandmother was the kind of woman who had her hair done once week. For which appointment, she wore low healed pumps, a dress and a string of pearls. She had a lady who did her laundry. Another who made custom drapes to match her custom upholstery.
She liked everything just so. As a result, she was nearly always looking for ways to improve upon whatever was around her. Which further resulted in a tendency to be quite analytical. She made me a writer.
Each winter she’d disappear to either Florida or Arizona to escape our Michigan tundra. Back in the 1970s that meant good granddaughters were expected to write letters. Once a week, if they were really good.
My mother made sure I was really good.
Most weeks that meant I’d be writing a letter on Sunday night. My Grandmother died over two decades ago. And I still sometimes feel the urge to pull out some stationary and pen a letter come Sunday night.
On the one hand, my Grandmother was the happy recipient of what ever I managed to get down on paper. She was never one to point out misspellings, bad grammar, run-on sentences, fragments, missing words, extra words, wrong names, missing punctuation, or even missing salutations. I believe she reasoned that I had teachers who could deal with any of that.
What she cared about was the big picture: the content and my ability to convey real meaning. She could be ruthlessly honest when it came to critiquing the meaning and content. Yet, she could be ridiculously generous when something delighted her. She was the first to say: “You should do something with writing.”
She didn’t know it, but she provided the perfect feedback model: be honest about significant matters, overlook minutiae and encourage.
It is hard to find useful feedback like that.
In any good training program for public speaking, you will be required to videotape yourself giving a presentation.
Unless you are some kind of Ted X rock star, watching such a recording of yourself can be one of the most uncomfortable, excruciatingly embarrassing experiences imaginable. But, if you can stomach it, there is truly nothing better for learning the naked truth about how you appear.
It’s the feedback equivalent of my Grandmother if she took her gloves off and gave it to you adult-like.
Unfortunately, there is no similar exercise you can do on yourself to really see your writing the way others see it.
Sure you could read what you’ve written. But, that doesn’t pack much of a punch. You’ve been doing that all along in the writing process anyway.
To get good feedback, you need to enlist the help of others. And because most people aren’t as invested in your development as my Grandmother was in mine, you’ll need to provide some guidelines and questions.
Ask things like: What is your overall impression of XYZ topic after reading this? What did you learn from reading it? What was your favorite line? At any point, did you start to get bored or struggle to keep reading? If so, do you remember about where that started? And so on.
One of the best places to find this type of feedback is through a writer’s group. I belong to one that meets once a month. We each bring something we’ve written and we read it out loud at the meeting. As far as feeling exposed, it is not unlike watching yourself give a speech on videotape.
You can also cultivate trusted colleagues, sometimes a boss, certain family members, and etc.
More on this at a later date.
What’s your best source of useful feedback?