Regarding Feedback & Encouragement

GLaDOS

“The Enrichment Center promises to always provide safe testing environments. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.”

This is GLaDOS’ way of providing feedback & encouragement. Needless to say, there are some moments in Portal at which this sort of thing is less than helpful. But feedback and encouragement are both important in the creative process, despite being very different animals. With GLaDOS’ help, I’d like to show you what I mean.

Feedback

“As part of a required test protocol, our previous statement suggesting that we would not monitor this chamber was an outright fabrication. Good job. As part of a required test protocol, we will stop enhancing the truth in three, two, o*BZZZT*”

Changes are, if you’re engaged in a creative process, the ultimate goal of that process is to create something to be experienced and hopefully enjoyed by other people. Unless you happen to be telepathic, it can be very difficult to gauge how people are going to react to what you consider to be clever, funny, touching or dramatic. Individual taste needs to be factored into most entertainment or artistic decisions, because the more broad the appeal of a given work, the greater the danger that it will be too bland, generic or safe. On the other hand, going right for a niche risks alienating a great deal of potential audience members.

The most tempting time to seek feedback, in my mind, is while the work is being created. You just hammered out element X or smoothed over passage Y or touched up that corner with color Z, and to you it looks banging. However, there’s that niggling little doubt in the back of your mind. You know somebody – let’s face it, everybody knows somebody – who thinks vampires are over-rated or believes there’s no such thing as too much sex and violence or just blatantly hates the color blue. And you’re worried that they represent the majority rather than just being a kook. So, if you’re anything like me, you begin poking around looking for someone to give you feedback to make sure what you’ve just done doesn’t suck.

Stop.

Especially if it’s a first draft. Just stop right now. You’re writing a first draft. Some of it is bound to be crap. You know it, I know it, anybody who knows what writing is really about knows it. I’m as guilty of this as the next struggling artist, especially when it comes to writing female characters that aren’t shallow stereotypes. I worry like mad over that shit. But sometimes I just have to trust the handful of people who’ve told me I know what I’m doing when I use my fingers to make words come out of my brain, and put my head down to move forward. Once the draft is done, then I can ask people how badly it sucks.

Maybe.

If I don’t go back and edit it myself first.

Encouragement

“Well done, android. The Enrichment Center once again reminds you that Android Hell is a real place where you will be sent at the first sign of defiance.”

On the other hand, there’s never a bad time to seek encouragement.

Let me tell you a little secret. C’mere, I won’t bite. Unless you ask. Wink, wink.

Artists, by and large, suffer from pretty massive insecurity issues. We worry that we’re wasting our time. We worry that our end result will not be enjoyable by people who aren’t our immediate family. We worry that our immediate family is going to have us sectioned. We worry about word choice, color balance, character arcs, plot structure, time constraints, deadlines, unpaid bills, collection calls, getting too fat, annoying our significant others and worrying too much.

We can tell ourselves we’re worrying too much, but sometimes it’s not as effective as hearing it from another person. Feelings of true accomplishment are few and far between. Don’t believe me? Take it from a guy who’s actually published something more than a little article on the Escapist and a short story in a horror PDF:

[Writing] is a game of inches.

You are ascending a mountain. It is slow. It is arduous.

Writing is not a romantic career. Nor is it particularly easy. Every gain is a small one. Yes, some writers take off like a rocket, but most don’t. Most eke it out. Most crawl. Most ascend very slowly toward the light.

Courtesy Terribleminds

So between those peaks that we manage to reach, we look for encouragement to keep going. We set milestones for ourselves. Finish this many chapters. Write this many words. Get to the end of this scene. They’re little touchpoints in the course of a larger work, but to us it can feel like a big deal when we reach them.

We like to share these achievements. We know in our minds that they’re just little things and they’re about as significant as nailing that “Two Points” achievement in Half-Life 2 (but man, is it fun playing hoops with D0G), but they still make us feel good. When we do share them, we’re not necessarily looking for a cookie or a pat on the head or even much more than a cursory acknowledgement that we’ve communicated. Saying we’ve hit one of those tiny milestones isn’t a bid for overflowing praise or an attempt to impress. It’s a personal announcement. It’s a tiny celebratory verbal ejaculation. It’s a yawp.

All I’m saying, folks, is to let artists yawp. Feel free to yawp back. Just don’t smack them with a metaphorical rolled-up newspaper and tell them to keep the noise down. It’s what my mom likes to call “a happy noise.” Happy noises are good.

That’s my two cents on it, anyway.

Other Opinions

“In the event that the Weighted Companion Cube does speak, the Enrichment Center urges you to disregard its advice.”

I don’t know what the Weighted Companion Cube would say about feedback & encouragement, considering it’s pretty much just a box with hearts painted on it, but I’m curious as to what you all think out there in the wilds of the Internets.

So lay it on me. When are good and bad times to get feedback? How do you view encouragement? What do you do to encourage yourself, and why is it a good idea to encourage others, even if it’s just when they say “Hey, I wrote another 50 words today!!” In my view, now’s a good time to ask for feedback, so I’m asking, folks. That’s what the comments section is there for.

“Thank you for participating in this Aperture Science computer-aided enrichment activity. Goodbye.”

2 Comments

  1. I can tell you the worst is when you want someone to look over a passage, because you’re tying in with prior, and all too often the other person just doesn’t get it.

    I found the best time to get help is when you’re at least halfway through the book. By that point, everything is established, and you have a true feel for your story. If you ask for help at this point, you have a good grasp of who your characters are, and any rough patches you had with them in the beginning are resolving themselves.

    At this point, you can take the critique, and you know what to do with the changes that are suggested. Dialogue a little awkward? You know how to fix it now. But, you’re able to get a check that helps ensure that the second half of the draft is something remotely usable, especially if you make any significant changes.

  2. A bite? Don’t mind if I do! *bites your neck*

    Even a Geek who is pure of heart and plays his video games at night, may become a Myth when the Dandelions Bloom and the New Moon shines bright!

    For me, a good time to get feedback is when you aren’t sure about something. It’s not that you always need others to validate your work, but sometimes others can give recommendations that really help. There have been times when I thought something sounded great and original only to have someone critique it and go “That’s nice, but isn’t this plot essentially Futurama?”

    I’d say a bad time for feedback is when something isn’t finished or when someone’s feedback is derivative. When I’m looking for a job, it is not helpful to me for people to say “You should work on your resume” or “You should send out applications.”

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