Humans thrive on feedback. Whether it’s the excited give and take of multilayered conversation of fellow minds around the diner table, or expressions and body language of the audience, or the long-form reply of “Yes, but… / No, and…” to a position statement, to the ping of a your first draft coming back full of tracked changes from a beta reader… the ability to throw an idea out there and get feedback is part of what keeps us feeling connected, and thriving.
I’ve seen a lot of people get more than a little unhinged when locked in their house last year and this year, and unable to have that grounding and that sanity check, even as the media switches lies out daily, trying to keep the fires of fear and hate stoked ever higher. Most of us think by talking things out, and the lack of ability to interact with the ordinary, the sane, and the community… has unbalanced and tangled the intricate web of our culture and civilization. (Even this, here, if not spoken, is still thinking by writing it out, and then seeing what feedback I get from you, Dear Commenters.)
This last week, a friend who has been struggling mightily with a story that rambled all over the place and refused to be contained or constrained to the plot she thought it might have… was bouncing ideas off some of my fellow Mad Genius Club members, and by the feedback, and sorting through and discarding or adopting our comments upon characters and the human condition, bad puns, offbeat suggestions, and examples was able to walk away with clarity on an emotional arc, and a rough guideline for the plot that had been quietly building all along, but she hadn’t been able to pick the signal out of the noise before.
I’ve done much the same on this work in progress: I joke with Calmer Half that I should list him as a co-author, for the number of times I’ve gone to him and said, “I can’t write this. I don’t know how to even start!”
“Well, what’s going on, and what do you want them to do?”
And then I talk it out with him, and with his insight on military maneuvers and military cultures, he helps me figure out what the rough bones of the scene will be like. And then I go off and write it.
For all the critical press you will here on the ways that writer’s groups can hold you back, that same feedback can also propel you on. Just having other people talking about how much they’re writing makes it easier to write, and the ability to make someone laugh with a snippet encourages me to write it out and share. (Although I will note that the particular chat I use has a thousand-character limit, and thus I found that a lot of my scenes that I shared to friends are very short, because the medium does modify the message.)
Sometimes when the world conspires to be too full to get words on a page… A friend who writes scifi romance as C. V. Walter will announce, “Okay, I’m doing sprints! Show up, and we’ll do 2 hours of 15 minutes at a time writing as hard as you can, then 5 minute break, and wash, rinse, repeat!”
And somehow just having a group scattered around the world all focused together on that single goal and activity, checking in with wordcounts, is enough to break the block and get it moving.
Here’s to feedback, and to friends!