During my research on feedback I’ve come across an attitude that surprised me around the idea that people ‘ask for feedback but actually want reassurance’.
It cynically suggests that feedback is all about criticism and never about praise. Surely feedback and reassurance go hand in hand?
I’m a confident writer, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve needed reassurance more than anything else … When I was on the third draft of my first novel and knew I had to drop one of my favourite characters because he no longer served the story. (It was like dropping a friend that couldn’t speak for themselves.) Or the time when I took a fledgling essay to my workshopping group. They were the first people to ever clap eyes on my thoughts linking David Hicks, John Howard and the game of cricket. (And some of the last! It’s still in the ideas drawer … )
Reassurance. What’s wrong with it?
It provides positive reinforcement about those aspects of the work that are singing, reminds us that we can tap into a universal experience through writing humour, anger or despair, and highlights that inkling of original thought coming through all the purple prose.
Does reassurance improve the work?
Does reassurance without criticism improve the work?
Reassurance keeps the writer writing. The more you write, the more likely you are to enter flow. This is not some hippy state where you think that everything you write is just peachy, it’s a state of being connected to the process, of your skills meeting the challenge, of being present in your work.
Writing improves our work. Every time we write we:
• Get closer to realising the whole point of our memoir
• Dig into the heart of our novel’s protagonist
• Grow nearer to the nub of our short story’s turning point.
We’re practising the craft. Honing the skills. Getting fitter.
So reassurance is a good thing. Yet as writers striving to improve we need to be careful if reassurance is the sum total of what we seek. If our tired, bruised or flighty egos demand reassurance all the time, it’s a sign that we’re not trusting our instincts to write deeply. And the best stories always come from the deep.