by Joni B. Cole
University Press of New England, 2006
Friend and fellow AWA writing group leader Laurie Baron recommended this one. And now I recommend it – particularly for those facilitate writing groups, and also for those who need to sift through their reactions to all those “constructive critiques” offered by friends and fellow writers.
Joni Cole, a writing group leader herself alternates her own pithy wisdom on the merits and demerits (meaning pain) of feedback. She begins by relating her own experience in a fiction writing continuing education course. Once a week, she like every other student in the class handed in a short story from which the professor would choose one story for class discussion. All the other stories would simply be handed back with comments.
Cole admits to having hedged her bets that first week, handing in a story which had received an “A” in a creative community college course taken a few months earlier. But not only was her story not chosen, it was returned with this comment on the last page, “It’s all wrong.”
This is what Cole calls toxic feedback, the kind of (unkind) comment that can make a writer “lose ground and lose confidence.” The intent of her book is to “help writers not only survive criticism but thrive in the (healthy) feedback process. And what is healthy feedback? “…any response that helps the writer write more, write better and be a happier person.” (p.9)
She alternates her own pithy (and humorous) wisdom on the subject with interviews of published authors. asking them first, to relate their worst toxic feedback story and then to offer a word of wisdom for the writing journey. Grace Paley, Ted Kooser, Khaled Hosseini, Jody Picoult and Julia Alvarez and Don Johnson (author of my favorite Henry the Bear/ alias Thoreau picture books!) are among those interviewed.
Her ultimate goal: To enable us to defend ourselves from what is toxic without recognizing invaluable feedback when it is offered.