Did I hear you correctly?

on a day trip with a student in Bulgaria
on a day trip with a student in Bulgaria

“Are you a virgin?” he asked. He was a 15 year old student.

“Excuse me?” I said. I was 25 and a new teacher. I put the cookie I’d just picked up back on the plate.

“Are you a virgin?” he asked.

I bit the inside of my cheek. “Um, I’m sorry. I don’t think I understand your question.”

“I’m a Scorpio,” he said. “Are you a Virgin?”

I dropped back into the chair. “Virgo,” I said. “The word you want is Virgo. And no. I’m a Libra.”

You put your work out into the world and maybe you ask for feedback. You never know how another person takes the question. Or takes your story for that matter. You might be embarrassing yourself in a way you don’t even know. That’s reassuring, isn’t it?

When you ask for feedback, what do you really want to hear?

9 thoughts on “Did I hear you correctly?

  1. When I first asked for “critique” I wanted to hear how fabulous my story was, how great, awesome, amazing. When that didn’t happen, a did a short spiral into “I suck”, then grew up.

    I think — and I emphasize think — I can take it better now when people don’t like my work or find flaw in it. I can take what they say seriously (when it’s serious and helpful criticism) and see if what’s offered is the right thing for my story, or if I need to find another way. I also don’t necessarily take one person’s word as gospel; hearing the same thing from a lot of critics goes a long way with me. Otherwise, it’s all subjective.

    But then, I can’t swear to any of this. None.

    1. Ah yes. I’d like to hear how wonderful my story was too. But real, thoughtful criticism is good–even if it does make me feel like someone has set fire to me from the inside out.

  2. Trying to figure out what the other person is saying, and then responding to that (not to what I actually “heard”): yeah, I know what that’s like! 🙂 When I was in my teens/early 20s and stubbornly resisting wearing a hearing aid, I often spent more time in a conversation thinking than listening. It was exhausting.)

    If you turn the question around, it becomes easier for me to answer: I want to hear what the other person has to say, period, because that’s all I could reasonably offer if I were in his/her shoes. When a writer says, “Tell me what you think” (in those words or others), a reader has no way of knowing what that means unless they get into a lot of tedious back-and-forth about semantics.

    The main thing I try to do when I critique is to first weigh what I can of the author’s intentions for the work, to the extent I can figure them out. So many Amazon reviews, for instance, are of the implied “…now, if I wrote this, what I would have done at this point” sort, y’know? Actually that’s true of many (maybe most) professional reviews, too: “Boy, this would really be something if the author had just written a completely different book!”

    If I give someone a chapter or a paragraph, chances are I’m really just sharing it (“Hey, look what I did! I wrote a chapter!”) unless I say otherwise. (Which I seldom do.) If I give them a whole story or book, though, I’m hoping — comments about specific passages aside — I’m hoping they’ll stop and think, Hmm, I wonder if there might be some reason why THIS [whatever it is] is like THIS, and not like something else?

    That’s a lot to ask of a reader, though. A *lot* — verging on too much. So all I’m hoping they’ll say is, well, whatever they say. I’m grateful to hear them say anything.

    And then comes the next hard part: how not to take a reaction personally, one way or the other, because ultimately a writer never really knows a critiquer’s intentions, either. Just take the words for what they may be worth, and move on. Always move on.

    1. I’ sure I ask too much–in my head. Most of the time I try not to let the other person know everything I really want from them. Avoids the craziness and disappointment. And I hate those reviews that are more about what kind of book the writer should have written. Work with what is there people.

      Now that I’ve given so many people my novel (and not wanting feedback) I’m just more paranoid than usual. Or is that neurotic? Anyway, moving on. Moving on.

  3. That’s funny. My first teaching assignment I had a 14 year old who wrote notes to me on his homework. He wanted to know if I’d stay after school and have sex with him. I thought my VP was going to wet himself, he laughed so hard when he read it. The boy’s mother was mortified but I never got notes like that again from him.

    When I stick a story out in a situation where I know it can be reviewed, I try to take what is relevant and constructive and discard the rest.

  4. LOL I remember when you told that story on Sherri’s “we’re ALL virgins!” post. 🙂 It’s even funnier the 2nd time!

    I’ve seen a lot of people – when I was reading things on DA – who’d ask for feedback and then reject it when it isn’t what they want to hear. Or they’d argue with it, or completely ignore it. The only feedback deemed acceptable seemed to be, “Oh how awesome your story is, I can’t wait to see it in print so I can buy it!”

    That’s not critique, that’s butt-kissing, and a real author knows the difference. I believe real authors want feedback that’s honest – how else can they grow and become better writers?

  5. i want folk to tell me of errors in my way storytelling, not in my stories

    that way i can ponder their suggestions and use/reject them according to my own perception of the advice 😀

  6. andewallscametumblindown

    I REALLY want to know what readers REALLY think. REALLY. Sometimes they’re afraid to tell me what they really think. And that’s a real shame. ~Miriam

  7. I want their emotional reactions to the story. I want to know where they became disengaged from the story, if they did. Where they got bored, or irritated, or were particularly moved. I want to know if they think I backed off from anything, or went too far.

    I also want their intellectual reactions to the plot and the logic of the story. Did it make sense that the characters did what they did, in the context of the story? Even if it wasn’t what the reader would have done?

    I guess I want a lot.

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