I’ve got a story for you. It goes like this:
The other day, I asked my fiancee for feedback on my writing. This is not unusual; she always offers great thoughts on how to improve my work. This time, I gave her a piece about a creepy painting (the final version of which you can read here).
My fiancee had a lot of thoughts on the piece. After a while I found myself disputing them. When she said the characters felt flat, I said that was intentional. When she said she wanted something creepier, I argued it was creepy enough.
I stepped away from this experience wondering why I did what I did. If I wanted honest feedback, why then did I disagree with it when I got it?
Here’s my theory: though I asked for it, honest feedback wasn’t what I was looking for. I actually wanted praise. I wanted someone to tell me my story was good.
The more I think about it, the more I realize this is not all that uncommon. Take members of my writer’s group, for example. Some members have received honest feedback at meetings, then haven’t come back again. These folks also didn’t note any of the feedback they got. Which makes me think they weren’t actually looking for constructive criticism. They wanted someone to tell them their writing was good.
I think we all do this to some extent, whether or not we realize it. When we share our work, it’s because we hope others will derive some enjoyment from it. (Otherwise, why share it?) Some part of us wants to hear that our readers like our writing.
So then, is it wrong to seek praise? I don’t think so. For writers, praise is essential. Praise validates what we’re doing. In my aforementioned writer’s group, for example, we always start critiques by stating everything we like about the piece under review. It’s arguably the most important part of the whole process.
If you feel upset when you receive people’s honest feedback, it might be because you’re unconsciously hoping for praise. So when you solicit feedback, be upfront about what you’re looking for, both with the reviewer and yourself. If you want to know what people like about a story, ask them. Don’t ask for honest, constructive criticism unless you really mean it.
And remember: Everyone needs praise, but praise on its own won’t make your writing better. Criticism will. When you’re ready, make sure to ask specifically for both praise and criticism. “What did you like about this piece?” “How do you think I can improve it?”
Whether it’s praise or honest feedback, communicate exactly what you’re looking for. And either way, don’t forget to have fun!