Workshop Blues/Tact

I’m doing my MFA online and I’m currently in a workshop class. In this class, two people a week will submit stories and everyone else provides feedback. I did my part with the two stories, as usual, and then tonight I received an email from the instructor informing me that one of the writers last week had felt that I had personally attacked her with my feedback, and that it wasn’t constructive. Her feelings were hurt.

I wanted to write back and say that she’d better grow a set if she wanted to be a writer. But, I didn’t. I, like a grown up with a delete button, apologized.

Why? Because I remember, years ago it seems, getting feedback on the first chapter of a story I’ve never finished. It was in one of those internet workshops, not MFA related. One person sent this essay of faults back, pointing out each typo, each tiny little thing, and how dare I submit something so riddled with typos. The entire feedback was mean, nasty, and lacked any tact of any kind. That was the last piece I submitted to that particular workshop, because I was hurt by it.

I’ve since grown a thicker skin – I can take people not liking things that I write. But, I forget that other people can’t. I went back this evening and read what I’d posted as my feedback, and while I don’t consider what I wrote personal in any form or fashion, this girl apparently did.

Writers, like all artists, have to be able to take criticism, both good, constructive, and bad. Take it, see it for what it is, and do with it what you will. Keep the good, consider the constructive, and disregard the bad. I don’t know this girl at all, but based on her profile picture, she looked young. Fresh from undergrad young. She’s also making a duck face in her picture, but I’m not sure what that implies. I might be judging here. Someone stop me.

There are two lessons to be learned.

The first is important for all writers to know: when people criticize your writing, they are not criticizing you. There comes a point where your novel has to stop being your baby. When someone says that they can’t connect to your characters, that doesn’t meant they hate you.

The second is also important for all writers: be tactful as possible when providing feedback. You never known the disposition of the writer you’re sending it to. They might be a fragile little workshop virgin who’s sending her writing out into the world for the first time.

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