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What I do with negative feedback

May 15, 2008
Posted at 10:31 am

I get feedback from people all the time. Some is positive and some is negative. I like it all, usually, because it helps teach me something. That's what feedback if for, right? So, since a lot of you send it to me, I thought you might be interested in what I do with it ... how I process it ... my thought patterns when I read it, and all that stuff.

The positive feedback is easy. It tells me I got it right.

The negative feedback, though, is often more interesting, because it tells me how I can do better..

I got the following anonymous (of course) feedback on the story "Uncle Bob, The Dick Donor."

Best quote of the entire tale; "Men are so stupid. I took the bait." Can we get an Amen for that?? It never ceases to amaze me how folks can think that these fantsies are somehow worth reading. Please don't misunderstand me here, your writting skills are top notch, grammar, sentence structure and useage are all superb. IT'S THE STORY PREMIS I can't get over!!!! Who the fuck in their RIGHT MIND would even consider doing this crap?? Especially being kicked off by some off the wall phone call from his sister-in-law?? WTF?? "Oh, I'll just go ahead and carry through, after all, my wife asked me to do it! Of course, she has NO ULTERIOR MOTIVE and there's no chance in hell she'll CHANGE HER MIND no Sir, not MY WIFE!! No, my wife won't ever talk to her Sister again in this lifetime! Right!?! ARE YOU NUTS????? THEY ARE WOMEN!! THEY COMMUNICATE!!!! Jesus Christ on a crutch, how fucking dumb can one male possibly be? Which brings me to the point of this note. I quit reading after the fourth paragraph and have NO DESIRE to finish torturing my poor old mind with this level of insanity. It's like watching a trainwreck in SLLLOOOOWWWW

OK. Let's see what this feedback tells me, or does to make me a better writer.

First off, I must assume the anonymous reader is male, based on the sentence "THEY ARE WOMEN!!" Whether the reader is male or female can be important, since the genders often view something from different directions.

Here are the first four paragraphs of the story his feedback referred to:

I was minding my own business one Wednesday night, reading a good book, when I heard my wife yell "What?!" into the phone. She was talking to her sister Lara, and I wasn't too surprised to hear them yell at each other. They had that kind of relationship. Don't get me wrong, they loved each other, but both women were headstrong and liked having things their own way, and they clashed often.

So I pretty much ignored Shelly while she yelled at Lara. I heard a couple of things, like "Why in the world do you think I'd go along with that?" and "You have to be crazy - Bob would never do that." I, of course, had no idea what it was that I would "never do" and, while I was curious, I tried to concentrate on my book. Experience had taught me not to get involved when those two were going at it. Voluntarily anyway.

Pretty soon they hung up and my wife walked into the room looking shocked. She stared at me for a minute, not saying anything, until I got nervous and finally said "What?"

"You won't believe what Lara just asked me," she said as she sunk into a chair.

Now, let's set aside, for the moment, the fact that Shelly should have "sank" into a chair, instead of "sunk" into it. That's been fixed, by the way.

The point is that the first four paragraphs of the story don't tell you anything about the plot. They get you ready to find out what the plot is, but you don't know what's going to happen.

So this reader lied. He said he quit reading at that point. Yet, he somehow knew at least some of what happened after that. Maybe the teaser to the story gave that away. Here's the teaser:

Bob's wife decides he should help out her sister with her "problem", which is fine. But her daughters turn out to be "problem" children, who need a firm hand... er well... firm SOMETHING.

Well, I suppose if you've read much erotica, it wouldn't be too hard to figure out that his sister-in-law's problem might have something to do with a stiff dick. I guess if you put the title, the teaser, and the first four paragraphs together, you might get some idea that Bob was going to have sex with Lara, or her daughters.

But the fact is that that's not enough information to result in such a vituperative diatribe about how insane the premise of the story was, and how completely worthless it would be to spend another second watching the train wreck.

OK, so what I have learned so far is that the reader read a lot more than he wants to admit, and didn't like it. The next thing I want to know is why he didn't like it. He's already said that the mechanics of my writing are OK, so that's not it.

As best I can tell, his primary objection is that Bob's wife will likely change her mind about loaning him out for sex with her sister. Or that Bob's wife will talk to her sister about what happened WHEN he was loaned out. It's not quite clear.

So, with the information available to me, which I read all the way through, by the way, here is what I have learned from this feedback:

This reader feels that such a scenario could not reasonably take place in real life and, if it did, it wouldn't work out well at all.

* Sigh *

Believe it or not ... I already knew that. That's why we call this fantasy.

But I don't stop there. No sir! When I get feedback, I sometimes get involved in a dialog with the person sending it to me. We discuss things, even argue about things sometimes. We exchange ideas, which can lead to positive outcomes from what was initially a negative experience for both of us.
Of course I can't do that with someone who sends me feedback anonymously.

If this reader would have given me the opportunity to respond to his complaints, I might have been able to help him, or he me.

I would have suggested that he should stop reading erotica at once. His soul might be at risk here. After all, he's obviously a good Christian man. His use of "Amen" and his invocation of Jesus Christ makes that obvious, though I'm not sure Jesus would appreciate the "on a crutch" part of it. I've read the New Testament several times, and nowhere in there does it say Jesus used a crutch. A crutch suggests infirmity, and if there was anybody in all of history who wasn't infirm, it was Jesus.

Second, I would have suggested that he has fantasy and reality all mixed up, and needs to get that taken care of, because that can cause trouble. I would have reassured him that this story was only a fantasy, where things that would never (and probably should never) happen in real life can be looked at ... just for fun.

He might then have reminded me that he knew it was a fantasy, as noted in his comment about "these fantasies" not being worth reading.

I might then have commented that I agree there are fanatasies that I wouldn't think were worth reading. Such as the fantasy of hanging someone upside down over an open fire and cooking them alive, and then cutting out and eating the liver. I wouldn't start a story that I thought was going to contain that. I'd have asked him why he started this story. Was the teaser faulty? Was it coded wrong? Was he taken completely by surprise in those first four paragraphs?

I would have agreed with him that any man who actually tried what Bob does in this story, could most assuredly be labeled "insane" or "dumb" or "nuts".

And I would have argued that the average person, if given the opportunity, would watch a train wreck in slow motion lots of times. I don't know anybody who doesn't rubberneck when passing an accident.

And, if I would have listened to Peaches, my editor, who gets to read a lot of the feedback that is sent to me, I would have agreed with him that he was right about the best line in the story. Men ARE so stupid ... including this reader.

But I wouldn't say something like that. It's not my style. I prefer to concentrate on the positive in life. I prefer to learn something from negative feedback, so I can be a better author.

Like in this case, where I learned ...


I guess I'll have to think about that some more.