For Saturday, March 5, 2016:
“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
C. S. Lewis
” … [T]here is no failure, only feedback.”
Andy Mort, musician quoted at positivewriter.com
Back in the ‘olden’ days when I still submitted poetry to potential publishers through the mail, I received a rejection that rocked my world. Per the guidelines, I had sent a collection of ten or twelve haiku for consideration. Almost by return mail I found the self-addressed, self-stamped envelope that almost always meant rejection in the mailbox. That was bad enough. The reason for rejection was worse: the poems were deemed ‘too sentimental.’
Far worse than the rejection itself was the editor’s tone. I don’t know why, but I kept the letter for a good while and would take it out to re-read periodically over a period of a few years, so even long after I was over my pique and my hurt feelings, I saw that the editor was indeed patronizing and condescending.
I know that editors of publications are busy, but I believe if one uses a term such as ‘too sentimental,’ one should explain why. What made the poems sentimental? Certain words, subject matter? The only thing I learned from that rejection was that some editors can be … well, I’ll just say it … jerks.
No, the other, more important, thing I learned was never to respond to people whose work I edit in that way. When I first started editing, I remembered that response every time I worked with someone, and I made damn sure that if I had to say something hard, I said it in such a way that showed encouragement or pointed to something positive at the same time. Or I made a suggestion for improvement. I still do this. In my considered opinion, it’s not right to tell someone what’s wrong only. There must be positive reinforcement as well.
There’s feedback, and then there’s feedback. There’s criticism, and then there’s critique. Criticism is aimed at the person. Critique is aimed at the work. That’s a mighty big difference.
Criticism about writing is always subjective because it depends on another human being. The editor may be having a hard day or has gotten difficult news, and our little collection of poems just happens to cross her or his desk at the wrong time. An editor who critiques, on the other hand, works on behalf of the writing while also taking into account the writer and how s/he can improve the writing’s impact.
This kind of feedback is more like teamwork: how can we work together to, say, make the sentence structure easier to read, or use active voice instead of passive, or maybe try free verse for this poem instead of a sonnet so the rhyme scheme is more flexible?
(Sometimes all it takes is a moment to re-think our words. For instance, I started to write the end of the last sentence in the graph above like this: ‘ … instead of a sonnet so the rhyme scheme isn’t so forced.’ I think ‘flexible’ is much more positive and works much better, and all it took was a few seconds.)
This is the kind of feedback that leads to achievement. We have learned how to write at least a little better because someone took the time to care about us, too.