A Question of…

I posted about feedback and reviews and gifts on the blog this week, so I asked my fellow Missdemeanors to share their best piece of advice for either giving or receiving feedback. Because I believe in always having Plan B, I offered them the alternative of telling us what gift they received that went unappreciated on opening but revealed its true value later? My fellow bloggers had the chance to dime someone out about the ugly sweaters and slipper socks but, because women who write about murder are actually very sweet, they chose not to. Instead they praised other’s thoughtfulness.


The best advice I hated at the time came from a wonderful writer friend who suggested I move my manuscript from third person, multiple points of view, to first person, single point of view. I had a really hard time letting go of those extra points of view. I had worked so hard getting into the heads of those characters. But once I did it, two things happened. First, I was amazed at how little in those points of view were necessary to the plot. And second, my protagonist’s voice emerged. I’m grateful for that friend. I couldn’t see it myself.


Tell the hard truth with a soft heart.


Oh, Paula, that’s such good advice. Can’t top it. So, I’m going with the gift question, Alexia.

For our first wedding anniversary–we’ve been married for over 25 years, so it was a while ago–my husband gave me a beautiful fountain pen. I wrote with fountain pens in school in France and Germany, so it wasn’t a crazy gift, but I wanted jewelry. A few years later, I lost the pen in its black leather case, and, to my surprise, I felt terrible. My husband’s aunt told me a story of finding a trinket years after she lost it. She told me the pen would come back to me. I rolled me eyes. Even more years passed. Then, while packing for a trip, I felt that slender black case tucked beneath the inside corner of the suitcase. The anniversary pen now lives in a bowl on my writing desk with a few other of my favorite pens reminding me that I have always loved the written word. What on earth would I have done with a piece of jewelry anyway?


Alison, I love fountain pens AND jewelry, so I’d be happy with either.


Point out the positive before the negative. It opens people up to taking criticism because they know you’re not going to just bash them. I have to remember to do this with my kids. 


I like to think of writing/book criticism much like advice on a new dress. Asked into the dressing room prior to purchase, you’re obligated to a level of honesty, asked about the dress when someone is dressed and ready to go out the door, think carefully and cage your honesty with a level of awareness of timing. Asked in the middle of a fancy party, you’d better stick to something nice unless actual toilet paper is involved. Same with writing and books. The point of criticism is to shepherd improvement. Not to make yourself feel smart or even helpful. It’s about the other person.


Yes, please tell people about the toilet paper. But whisper discretely.


 One thing I’ve noticed in my work as a workshop leader is that people want to be treated with respect. They are usually willing to put in a lot of hard work if they feel like you’ve heard them and tried to understand what they have to say. So I try to listen. When I get good criticism myself, it always makes me feel inspired, like I now know what to go out and do. 

(P.S. Susan has an article in The Writer magazine titled, “Nine Strategies for Handling Criticism as a Writer.”)


Well said, Susan. Criticism should in the end be inspiring… even the hard stuff!


I agree with everyone’s advice so I’m opting for the under-appreciated gift. This calendar was given to me years ago. The person who gave it to me knew how much I love Peanuts, and they thought Snoopy at his typewriter was fitting, but it took me a few weeks to even take it out of the box. I thought, “A calendar? I mean, it’s cute but…mmkay.” Then I set it on my desk. Now I can’t live without it. Adjusting the date has become part of my morning ritual.


So cute!


I really want that Snoopy calendar

The advice is all so great!!! I’m going with a gift question. The best gifts are the ones where a lot of thought went into it. My thing with red shoes began with my husband years ago when he saw me strutting around a store with red high heels on (I strut because I literally really, really try out every pair of shoes because I walk a LOT living in NYC, even if they’re red stilettos!). He decided to get them for my birthday and now they’re kind of a staple around here. And he’s the best researcher. Last Christmas he found these sensational books for my writing! They mean so much because he digs up some great finds and it takes time and thoughtfulness. He even bought me a red nail polish once because it was called “New York Red” and it went with all the New York books he bought.

Have any advice on giving or receiving feedback? Want to drop a hint about what gift you do, or don’t, want? Want to share your appreciation for something that seemed dubious at first? Comment on the blog or join the conversation on Facebook.

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