This week, consultant Karley Miller shares her strategies for navigating multiple (and sometimes conflicting) pieces of writing advice.
My last writing project took me a month to revise. I set a goal to have revisions completed in a week, used that week to think about getting started, then spent the next three weeks stressed about not having met my own self-imposed deadline. Did someone say writing is a process?
Since I sent my revised draft off to receive more feedback, I’ve had some time to think about the source of my revision anxiety. Feedback. It’s potentially the most important, and confusing, and anxiety-inducing thing (for me, at least, and maybe you too). So, feedback is important (you’re writing for an audience, right?). Not only is feedback from one person important, feedback from multiple people, if possible, is even more important. Feedback, especially from multiple people, can be confusing. Each person comes to a piece of writing from a totally unique perspective. No two people are completely alike—neither is their feedback. This isn’t to say that feedback exists, from each source, as its own special snowflake of insight, but the differences in opinion are large enough to create, like, anxiety frostbite if you spend too long scrutinizing them. Maybe that’s a stretch, but sifting through feedback in order to improve a draft can be stressful, which is why I want to share, with anyone who has been kind enough to read this far, my favorite new piece of writing advice (not claiming it as my own, rather it has probably existed since our ancestors scratched petroglyphs into cave walls, and only just now reached me): writing is much about learning when to listen and when not to.
This is not to say that revision anxiety is cured by seeking feedback from two different people and deciding, after reading their comments, that one person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It is to suggest, however, having a little faith in your own purpose. By the time you’ve received feedback from multiple people, you’ve spent hours turning your thoughts into words on a page. I don’t believe you can write a sentence without some idea of what you’re intending to communicate. This is where learning when to listen, and when not to, comes in. If you have a clear idea of your argument, or your story, or your sentence, for example, not every single word of feedback is going to help you better communicate that idea. For example, if I write, “Feedback isn’t a snowflake,” and you say, “This makes no sense,” I’m not going to change my idea (because I am, at this point, very wedded to the idea that feedback can be compared to a special snowflake but is not, exactly, one), but I might, in my blog, try very hard to explain it because your feedback let me know that I was unclear, and I, myself, am able to understand that this sentence is a stretch. If I can’t explain it, maybe I should cut it.
Moral of the story? All feedback should be taken into consideration, and applied only after you are sure making the change won’t alter your message. Unless, of course, feedback makes you reconsider your message (argument, etc.). In which case, good luck, and the Writing Center is here to give you even more feedback on a new and improved message. Although, as you can see, it’s a process for everyone (very seriously considering revising this blog about feedback/revision to exclude the snowflake comparison, although now I’m thinking the winter theme works nicely with the change of seasons).