The Writer’s Midwife Learns a Lesson in Feedback

The Writer’s Midwife was conceived through my own journey with critique/feedback. I had been in a few critiquing circles and had seen different ways they could operate. Some were more gentle than others. Even with the experience in the gentle ones with rules so that it would not turn into a hack-and-slash-free-for-all, I quit writing for two years. I just couldn’t bear the weight of not being “good enough”. It wasn’t until I could see my work separately from myself that I began to see the value in feedback whether I wanted to hear it or  not. Now I write  all the time and do not let anything stop me. I am free to workshop my work with the focus being on what the poem wants to say. I view my poems as little entities sent out into the world and I am responsible for letting them speak in the cloak of my voice. It is a privilege and I want them to be the best they can be.

Having said that, “The Writer’s Midwife” has come up against some pressure about feedback and how to give it. I never started out thinking that the midwife in me would ever give feedback. That is an entirely different part of myself. I started this out by thinking that the midwife would embody the encouragement and compassion to keep others going on the path of writing and never, never give up no matter how much criticism and rejection a person came across on their writing journey. I never imagined myself giving the feedback. Having said that, I need to be clear, I do give feedback and I do critique and I have had awesome teachers to model how to deliver this. However, this is a totally different persona in my mind. This is the editor in me. The editor in me sees a work and divorces it from the person to a degree ( I know this is very post-structuralist or post-modernist of me? I can’t remember. I need to look up my literary theory handbook). It is not my goal to be ruthless, but I all of a sudden pull out my microscope and fall into the language and see the intricacies. The author disappears for a time. The author reappears for me after I formulate my feedback and experience of the piece. I deliver the feedback in my own voice. It is hard to give feedback because I recognize that writing is a vulnerable act and inevitably the author will take it personally unless her or she is prepared not to. Therefore, I keep the two separate: the editor and the midwife.

At least, I would like to. I am starting to notice that people are coming to me and wanting advice on their pieces. I have also noticed that I have to prepare them for the difference between the two voices. The midwife and editor come from the same place in that they both want to see the birth of a work living up to its full and bloated potential. Both of these personas recognize the true and blossoming potential of the writer as well and wants to see them show up to the world when they are truly ready. However, with that comes the tough love with raw and honest feedback.

A person would benefit from being completely ready for this. I was not and I stopped writing. Being “in the closet” is not a bad thing if you find yourself too vulnerable to receive anything other than praise. Stay there until you are ready to emerge and make the work better. I retreated back into the closet for two years, sometimes quite literally. It was a much different feeling when I re-emerged. Now, I don’t workshop a work unless I’m stuck. I go by the feeling in my body when something is finished and it is invigorating. As my mentor, Richard Harrison, says, work the poem until it has nothing left to say. By whole body lets out a great sigh when a poem has nothing left to say. Even at this stage, another author who I admire, Barb Howard, told me to find the gift in rejection. Writer’s constantly grow and they can rest assured that they will look back at the rejected work and be grateful their “shit” was not published, after all the writer may look back and not like their earlier work. Although, I think we should also be gentle with ourselves and realize where we were at the time it was written whether it was published or not.

When I was listening to a CBC interview with Toni Morrison, she said that writing was the only thing that was hers. She owned it. She was the authority. No one else could judge it or put labels on it while it was safely in the writing stages. Enjoy the autonomy that writing gives. Remember that you are in control. If you find yourself seeking approval, recognize this and acknowledge this need, but also remember that this may not be the time to send your work out to the world. Enjoy the safety and playfulness of the stage when writing is just that, writing.

2 Comments

Filed under The Writing Process

2 responses to “The Writer’s Midwife Learns a Lesson in Feedback

  1. Well what about somewhere in between where you “steer” a person to build in certain areas? Direct assaults on one’s work are rarely fun but most students would like to be directed or reviewed as a softer approach to editing. It’s not such an assaulting rejection that way…we know there will be plenty of time for wordsmith assaults in the publishing world!

    p.s. I MISS U!!!!

    • Absolutely! I am completely against “direct assaults”. However, I have noticed that some students think they are ready to be “steered” and then find they are resisting the feedback. It is a matter of recognizing what stage of the writer-self a person finds themselves in that will tell them whether they are ready for being directed in any way. Getting to know your writer-self and really asking yourself if you are ready for feedback is the first step. After that if you take it personally when someone gives their opinion then that is worth exploring internally as well. It is all one giant learning process in my opinion. Sometimes we end up learning the hard way, other times we don’t. I say just be as gentle as you can with your writer-self. Writing is a most vulnerable act.

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