[Tipster] Constructive Feedback Is the Pearl of Great Price

tipster post Apr 08, 2022

The phrase "pearl of great price" is a historical concept, dating back to the ancient scriptures.

The phrase means, essentially, "something that is very rare and is considered very important."

Such is constructive feedback for your writing.

Every Writer Needs the Truth

Years ago, as I wrote "Death by Suburb: How to keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul" (HarperOne), I struggled to find constructive feedback as I wrote the chapters.

Maybe I should say, "I struggled to accept constructive feedback."

I craved honest feedback. And yet I really didn't.

Was my writing connecting emotionally with my perceived readers?

I had my wife read a chapter or two.

She'd often respond with a furrowed brow, saying something like, "I really don't understand what you're saying here."

"You simply don't get what I am trying to write about," I'd say. And then I'd stomp off and mow the lawn.

As I look back, she was most always right.

But I stopped asking for her feedback.

What Makes an Effective Reader for Your Writing Project?

It's not your spouse or partner. For sure.

Unless, of course, your partner is an ideal reader.

But even so, it's hard to accept critique from a loved one.

Or maybe your relationship with this spouse or partner is fresh. And so the feedback is only glowing praise.

"I love it when you write, Dave. I'm so proud of you. You are an amazing writer."

Not helpful.

Nor do I find the comments of fellow writers to be that constructive.

One reason may be that this fellow writer is not my ideal reader.

In the feedback process, she may flag issues that are minor - and not relevant to my ideal reader.

Nor is the feedback from a writing cohort that has become more of a support group all that productive.

Dinners that run late into the evening and conversations about the vicissitudes of life are delightful.

That is a form of community.

You've discovered support. But not constructive feedback, necessarily.

You've found some friends.

But you've not identified someone who can help improve your manuscript.

Find Your Jennifer

Through my wife, I discovered Jennifer, a suburban mom of three, whose kids attended the same grade school as ours.

She and her family lived seven blocks away.

Her husband was an attorney with a Fortune 500 company.

She was an educated, aspiring upper-class suburban mom. She felt anxious about the success of her kids (sports and academics), she appeared to be driven, and she had been head of our local PTA.

She was a dead ringer for my ideal reader.

After I fired my wife from the job of reading my writing, Jennifer read every chapter.

Slow Down If You Need To

Only an ideal reader can give you the kind of constructive feedback that will significantly improve your manuscript.

If you don't know who your ideal reader is, then you may want to slow down your writing to find at least one. Two or three is preferable.

An ideal reader doesn't sweat the small stuff as she reads your piece.

Yes, she might point out the nits - grammar, spelling, etc - but mostly she will do one of two things:

1. She will furrow her brow and say, "I don't get what you are saying here. This doesn't resonate with me or make sense to me," or

2. She will read your article or chapter and say, "This reminds me of a time when ..."

When an ideal reader reads your writing - and the process triggers a story - you've just won the lottery.

You've made a connection. Your writing evoked emotion. You are in the zone.

Both responses, however, provide a form of constructive feedback, helping you move your writing forward.

Now, buckle up and find your Jennifer.