Discover more from Literary Level Up
Processing Feedback: Motivation Part 2
A theme will be emerging in this series. Try to spot the groundwork for it here.
One kind of feedback that is common to need or get is entirely motivational in nature. The point of handing work off to be read, and of the feedback that returns, is not to improve on what’s been drafted, but to keep the drafting progress going. This often gets dismissed when it happens in a critique group--there’s a common theme of deriding groups where “just writing” is enough to get praise--but it’s actually a extremely valuable and legitimate thing. (Weirdly, when it happens by handing drafts off to a spouse or partner, it’s usually considered a normal part of a healthy relationship.)
There are a couple angles to how this works, and different people will have different needs for those angles. One of them is accountability: Knowing somebody is expecting to see something from you and might be disappointed if you don’t deliver, or that you have a commitment to deliver something at a particular date and time, can be very motivational. Another angle is encouragement: sometimes it’s hard to remember what makes your project good or exciting when you’re in the thick of it. Checking in with an outside perspective that sees the goal in progress, rather than all the work and effort spent and still coming, makes it easier for you to stay in touch with the merits of the project.
Another element that can show up in this form of feedback is something we can call “sign-posting the neat.” Even if you’re a thorough planner and outliner, if you’re getting feedback on a project as you’re developing it, and it’s motivational in nature, there will still be actionable information present that might, depending on your process, influence how you proceed. If the feedback indicates that your characters are working really well, especially this one character in particular, you might well focus on that character more, or put a bit of work in to have the other characters catch up. Or perhaps the plot element the audience is most invested in isn’t quite the one you were planning, but now you steer toward answering those questions more. Feedback, by its very nature, is poised to cause feedback loops, and this can be a valuable way to develop your work.
The key here, as with all other kinds of feedback, is to recognize motivational feedback for what it is, and assess it accordingly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being in a crit group dedicated entirely to giving motivational feedback, unless you’re looking for something else. Or the group doesn’t actually motivate you. Either of those are good reasons to leave a group, or stop sharing with a friend or partner, even if there isn’t anything actually wrong. It’s possible for things to be a bad fit for you without being flawed. In most cases, saying, “This isn’t working with my process right now. I’m going to step away, but I hope we can pick up again in the future if circumstances change,” should be enough to help you break away tactfully and without drama. (In fact, I’d go so far as to assert that if it doesn’t, there was, in fact, a problem, and it wasn’t you.)
Something to keep in mind, and we’re about to go back to the chemistry metaphor, is that just because having accountability or encouragement works for a lot of people a lot of the time doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you, or will always work for you. These are catalysts, but they might not be the right catalysts for your reaction. Further, it’s possible they’re inhibitors: some people freeze up at the prospect of a deadline. Others might find feedback that is required to be positive or motivational has the opposite effect. (“Nobody actually liked it, they just said those things because they had to, everything sucks and now also those people don’t like me.”) If this is you, that’s okay. You’re not the first. You’re not even all that rare. There are other ways to lower your activation energy; feedback is just one option. (Chocolate. Tea. Timed sprints. Word count goals. Check-ins that don’t require draft sharing. There are as many options as there are writers.)
With motivational feedback, the best way to assess it is to ask yourself, “Is this making it easier for me to go on, or harder?” If the answer is “easier” then keep it up. If not, do something else. The quality of the feedback, in this case, is judged entirely by its effect on you and your drafting.
As for whether you should use any of the feedback you get when its primary goal is motivation, the answer is yes, of course. We touched on this with “sign-posting the neat,” but motivational feedback is good for identifying what is standing out particularly well to readers. If you have goals or intentions for what should stand out to your readers, then noting differences between what comes in and what you want can be informative. The trick is to avoid using feedback you received with a motivational focus as a shield against more critical feedback you get later. Discussion on how to work with more critical feedback is coming later.
A final note on the subject of motivational feedback: sometimes you hit a place where this is what you need, even when you’d typically be in a situation where a different kind of feedback is normal. Situations where you’re under deadline or on contract can be especially tricky if you hit that spot. That said, you’re going to do yourself and, by extension, the people paying for your work, a world of service if you recognize and acknowledge it when that’s where you are. Maybe you don’t read your edit letter right away, or listen super attentively during your crit session. (In the latter case, collect notes or record what people say so you can come back to it when you’re ready.) You can also opt for the frank approach and say, “Hey, I care about and respect the criticism you’ve prepared for me. Something that will help me engage with it efficiently would be if you could pull out the positives and the highlights and give those to me up front and separately from the rest.” It might not be possible, but in the vast majority of situations there is no downside to making a request that will help you, even if it can’t be honored.
What catalysts do you commonly use? Are you currently using feedback as a catalyst?