How to Maintain Friendships and Influence Positive Creative Growth -- or -- Six Tips on Giving Helpful Feedback (Without Being an Asshole) | a musing by Jordan Krumbine
Let’s be honest: it comes up.
There’s a lot of writing online and not all of it is great. Sometimes good can be a pretty big leap, for that matter.
On the other hand, maybe the writing is okay -- better than bad, right? -- but it just didn't click with you as a reader.
Either way, the walls have closed in, the lighting has gone dramatic, and suddenly you find yourself in the horrifying position of providing feedback to your creative friends.
It’s a theme that pops up a lot in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity and even if it's not writing -- it could be a video, an illustration, music, really any creative endeavor -- these tips will ensure that the feedback you're providing is both constructive and supportive.
If you still blow it and piss off your creative friends, well, that's on you, you horrible fucking, insensitive monster.
Let’s get into it!
1. Make sure your feedback isn’t unsolicited.
Remember the last time someone gave you some unsolicited advice? Like maybe how you should smile more? Or how Karen didn’t like your zombie story because zombies are gross and fiction is pointless because it’s not real?
Yeah, don’t be that person. Always ask if someone is open to, and wants your feedback.
2. Keep it private. Also, keep it to, you know, words. By that I mean fuck you and your dick pics. Jesus, no one was even talking about that.
Reviews are public. Comments are public. Feedback -- constructive likes and dislikes about someone’s creative art -- should always be private. And if it ends up being public, let that be the other person’s choice -- it’s their art, after all.
After I've read someone's material (and assuming the feedback is solicited), I'll draft my notes and send it along in a private DM or email.
3. Establish where you’re coming from (I’m a professional writer and these are the credentials that are informing this opinion -- OR -- I’m just a casual reader, but here’s my opinion).
While not all feedback is created equal, I'll go out on a limb and say that even the most careless feedback is almost never useless.
Whether you have some kind of expertise that's informing your opinion (I’ve personally spent the last ten years producing professional creative) a typical audience still consists of people. People have opinions. People can tell if a story tracks or if it didn't make a damn lick of sense.
If you don't have the credentials to criticize the nuts and bolts of technique ... don't. Focus instead on what you got out of the story as a reader. Were you wrapped up in the story or was there something that kept distracting you? Did the plot and characters make sense or was there something lost in translation?
4. Does your criticism have value? (The difference between constructive and destructive criticism.)
If you’re giving feedback, you’re criticizing something about a person’s art. Keeping in mind that the creative spirit can be delicate, ask yourself if your criticism has legitimate value.
Constructive criticism is actionable, well-reasoned, and supportive.
Destructive criticism is the opposite of that.
Don’t do destructive criticism. Period.
(Unless the person is a giant asshole and totally deserves it, in which case: go nuts.)
5. There's nothing wrong with positive criticism, either -- or just plain positive feedback.
Constructive criticism is feedback that's presented in a positive fashion ... but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s positive, rah-rah "great writing" praise. Again, remembering the delicate nature of the creative spirit, there’s nothing wrong with sidestepping the criticism altogether and just going with straight-up positive praise.
Share a part you really liked! Quote a turn of phrase that jumped out at you! Tell your friend that their art made you laugh, cry, or reframed something in a clever way!
It’s easy to focus on “problem” writing or sub-par creative, but if your friend hit a home run (or if a portion of their writing was a home run) there’s nothing wrong with grabbing your pom-poms and leading the cheer.
6. If you’re speaking from a place of expertise, pair your criticism with helpful suggestions.
I’ve given feedback to multiple writers about extremely dense paragraphs, which for me, usually results in tripping all over the page before getting pulled completely out of the story. This verges on technical feedback, so I follow the criticism with a recommendation to break up the paragraphs, adjust the pacing, and let a scene or sequence breathe.
I don’t want to necessarily tell you how to write -- much less rewrite your entire story for you -- but I will take a few minutes to provide an example of what I'm describing by rewriting a small snippet to clarify my notes.
Expertise is great, especially when it's shared.
7. There is no Number 7.
If you made it this far, you can probably tell that I personally lean towards positive encouragement when I'm providing feedback. After ten years of professional creative work, I've dealt with my share of destructive criticism. It's neither fun nor easy and even when you're braced for it, destructive criticism is still a kick in the balls.
My big takeaway has always been that creative needs to be nurtured and lovingly cultivated. Remember that your friends aren't just spinning random words for the hell of it -- this is their art and it was created with passion.
Whatever your feedback ends up being, try and couch it in positive encouragement. Your friends will thank you and your enemies will be confused, which will be the perfect opportunity to finally execute your 12-part revenge scheme involving poison ivy, a week-old bag of slightly-suspicious McDonalds, and a VHS copy of the 1993 Nintendo classic, "Super Mario Bros."
Finally, if you legit don't have any feedback, but do catch a rogue typo or three -- writer's are not robots. Typos happen. Toss us an FYI so we can fix that shit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.