Giving and Receiving Negative Feedback – The things I learned


When I think back to the early stages of my work negative feedback had no place in my home. Trust me, you wouldn’t find a welcome mat anywhere.

How can they not love this, I would shout. My work is solid! Perfect! An outstanding piece of first draft mumbo jumbo!

Yes, I was one of those. I also cried a lot in my crib.


I am Mozart!

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Being under the illusion that all of my first drafts were glorious it is now clear that the beginner version of me was headed straight into a concrete wall minus a helmet.

The other problem I had was watching the wonderful movie Amadeus one to many times.  If Mozart could nail it in one try why not I?

Yes. I was comparing my writing to Mozart’s genius. Jokes are welcomed.


How can you hate me?

Around this time I belonged to an on-line critique group. I had yet to submit my work as I was enjoying the early stages of critiquing others but when the time came to submit a story you can guess my surprise when the comments rolled in.

Convinced nobody ‘got it’ I moved on and added other stories along the same line, convinced again that this was a one-time thing.


Speak up, I can’t hear you

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Listening is a skill. Sure, we all listen but not all of us apply what we hear. With that in mind it didn’t take long for me to realize I had a lot to learn in the listening department.

As time went on and my visions of being the writing version of Mozart evaporated, I came to the conclusion that if one was to survive this art known as writing your tail off one had to perfect their listening skills when bad feedback occurred.

As I slowly learned the art of handling a tough critique I learned something just as valuable: How to give one as well.


Applying tough love

For as hard as it can be to receive, it can be equally as hard to give. I’m pretty sure empathy had a lot to do with it. Who wants hurt feelings?

But a writer needs to know if something doesn’t work and I knew a writer had to listen the same way I did. Good old tough love.

The most important lesson I learned when giving negative feedback was the beginning of their work. The writer is nervous. They want to hear the feedback but at the same time they don’t.

One of the tricks I learned from the experts was to open with a positive. I would point out an excellent piece in the early part of their work and highlight it. I explained how it stood out and moved the story forward.

From there I would gradually go to the center of their story where I felt it needed the most work and slowly end my feedback on a positive note.


I don’t want to hurt you

I’ve had a lot of success with this technique mainly because it was used on me. Hearing something positive at the beginning loosened me up and gave me a feeling of trust especially later when things were pointed out that needed lots of work.

As we all know writing is tough and receiving a tough critique is not a pleasant way to spend our day. Sometimes I wonder which is harder: Giving a tough critique or receiving one.

In the end it’s another step in the right direction.

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My Time Capsule

College football is my favorite sport and at the end of the year my favorite game is in full bloom.

While watching my favorite team get pummeled in their playoff matchup I figured now was the time to busy myself up.

Since I was the alone in the house I had two choices: 1) Continue to moan and groan at my team or 2) Find a distraction.

I have a drawer below my desk that desperately needs cleaning. It’s one of those junk drawers that I’ll bet most of you have.

With the TV in my man’s den playing and my team continuing to lose I opened the drawer and went to work.

I had no idea the treasure I would find.


Picture 1

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As you can see it’s a pretty average looking drawer.


Picture 2

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Ignore Flash and his photo bombing antics.


Picture 3

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In my house we call this mess a glorified mess.


Picture 4

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Just before I went to work I came upon an old metal box that I made in high school. I forgot it was there. Curious, I opened it.


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Old notes, mysterious jewelry and a handful of odds and ends littered the inside. As I began to put it back something told me to dig a little further.


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At the very bottom I came upon a piece of paper. The moment I saw the title the goal of cleaning out the drawer vanished. As you can see the title was simple and straightforward: Goals for 1989, January 2nd.

Curious at this magical little piece of a time capsule I took it out and carefully inspected each goal. Now, for your viewing pleasure, I thought it would be fun to share them with you.


Make College Top Priority: Goal achieved.

Get the best grades that I can: I was a happy B and C student. I was who I was.

Move away to college – Eastern or Oregon: I was living in my hometown of Burlington, Washington. I was already accepted at Eastern Washington University but I had my eye on a little college in Southern Oregon.

Working hard at one thing can make me the best: I distracted easily. In fact I still do. Ohhhh…..a puppy video!!!!!

Work hard on exercising: Goal achieved.

Keep a strong friendship with Susanne: Who the hell was Susanne?

Write more often to Stacey: Who the hell was Stacy?

Work hard at Sears: Happy I didn’t make Sears my career.

Ask more questions to teachers: Not sure I lived up to that one. Who needs that kind of attention?

Read and write more: Goal achieved!!!

Put full effort in everything I do: Probably didn’t happen. Key word is everything.

Keep Positive: Pretty sure I had a few down days. You’ve got to give me that.

Grow up: I’m still telling myself that.

Life must began now: I think I used the wrong began. 

Take on responsibilities: Does binge watching late night HBO count? I was really good at that.

Realize my potential and what I want out of life: That was a pretty good goal and one that I think I finally figured out.

So there you have it. A little piece of me on the second of January, 1989. Looking back it was a huge year for me and in many ways the decisions I made that year brought me to where I am today.

It’s amazing, don’t you think, of all the goals we make and how some of them take us to where we need to be. Now if I can just figure out who Susanne and Stacy were my day would be complete.


Happy Friday Everyone!!!!

Writing a novel is a fascinating experience

Novel 1

For about a month my writing routine has not exactly been on par. Sure, I’ve had my moments but they have been few and extremely far in between.

The last week of November I did what I could to keep ahead of things but I knew I would be thrown off once the operation arrived. When my prediction came true I wasn’t surprised but I was still annoyed.


My Messed up Head

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The pain pills, the rehab and the adjustments of living with a freshly new knee messed up my concentration on a high level. For a while I couldn’t turn on that switch that I had grown used to.

It wasn’t the case of desire, in fact it had more to do with the cupboard being bare. But something strange occurred last week and it made me wonder if writing is as solitary as we think.


My Messed up Novel

My current work had a giant plot hole. For months I have worked and reworked it. At times I thought I had it but in the end it became nothing more than false celebration.

For a while I tried working around it figuring this plot hole mess would heal on its own. When that didn’t work I’d spent hours failing to fix it wondering if I chose the wrong story to tell.

When the operation arrived I put everything aside. I knew the energy and the drive of dealing with my story’s mess would create more harm than good. But on the day after Christmas I forced myself to sit down in my old familiar writing spot and try again.


Weird Happenings

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I have always thought that writing a novel can be just as entertaining as the novel itself and on that particular December 26th morning my thoughts held true.

I drew out a map of the novel pointing out the pluses and minuses. Suddenly, with ease, the giant plot hole from hell appeared to have solved itself.

Unlike before, my characters found their place, the story-line eased a few degrees to the left while an unknown side character filled in the blanks.

Side character? Blank Filling? What the hell is going on?

Did the characters meet at a Portland Starbucks while I was under the knife? Or did they choose the hospital cafeteria to work out the details?

Did I mention the cafeterias outstanding cheeseburger?


Time to go to work

Now I have a story I can write. My confidence is real. Not an ounce of doubt in site. But no matter how good it feels I can’t help but wonder.

How did the story fix itself without yours truly at the wheel?

If I’ve said it before I’ve said it a thousand times: Writing a novel is a fascinating experience.



I hope 2019 is the best for all of us.

Happy New Year 2019 with colorful fireworks
Happy New Year 2019 with colorful fireworks