Monday, November 2, 2015

Kinder, gentler feedback

My manuscript is getting read by editors, and so far, the rejections follow.  The last two rejections included some helpful suggestions, so I have shortened the manuscript, taken out some characters, and added a scene to clarify the identify of one character.  A list of characters, both historical and non-historical, is now available.

But let's face it - rejection hurts.  As I have read the notes written by editors, it occurred to me that the feedback I provide for students is similar to the feedback I have been receiving.  Recently the editors are not writing the generic "this is not a good fit for us" but the more specific "the number of characters is daunting. As times shift, it’s hard to keep anchor. "  I admit 45 characters may seem overwhelming, though some of my favorite Charles Dickens' books have more characters.  I'm not comparing myself to the indomitable Charles Dickens - but sweeping historical novels often need many characters to populate the space and time. 

As I read the notes from editors like "it's definitely a 'no' at this point," I think of the notes I write on my students' work.  Do my messages encourage them, or discourage them?  Do they inspire students to work harder, or hurt their feelings?  I'm thinking a lot more about what I'm writing, and how I'm communicating in the feedback I give students on their written work.  I hope that by examining myself, and the way I communicate how students can improve their writing, I will become a better teacher.  And as I seriously consider the feedback I receive, a better writer as well. 


  1. "Do my messages encourage them, or discourage them? Do they inspire students to work harder, or hurt their feelings?" That is such an important question. Thanks for sharing this insight. It helps me think about how I work with our writers. And with anyone to whom I provide feedback.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Thinking about how I react to feedback I'm getting has really shifted my perspective. I hope it will make my own comments more helpful, and more sensitive!

  3. Katie, the prospect of submission is so onerous to me that I have a completed novel (only about a dozen significant characters and weighing in shy of 80,000 words) that I simply have had sitting on my computer for months--sent nowhere--after working on it for five years.

    Also, in my experience getting advice from too many voices can be awful for the "whole"--you wind up with a Frankenstein-monster instead of the "artistic composition" you initially aimed for. Interesting topic.

    BTW--This is Joe Colicchio; our gmail account is in my wife's name.

  4. As a writing instructor too, I can well relate to how you must be feeling in the role reversal of this situation. But your ability to rise the rejections by putting yourself in the shoes of your own students is instructive in itself. Thanks for the inspiration you've just given me to be a more considerate teacher as I continue to make comments on students' papers.