Joni B. Cole’s book, Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive, is an excellent book for all writers. If you have ever wondered if you could or should show your work to other writers, editors, friends or colleagues before submitting officially to publication, this book is for you. This book was published in 2006 by University Press of New England and has been a joy to read. Joni Cole is honest, funny, and she provides wonderful anecdotes from poets such as Ted Kooser and novelists such as Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-seller, The Kite Runner.
There are plenty of eye-opening stories and tips for writers at every stage in their career, including how to give and receive feedback graciously as well as how to form your own writer’s workshop.
When it comes to receiving feedback it is best to keep an open mind and to examine your own defense mechanisms. Mrs. Cole uses the phrase “Is It You…Or Is It Them?” to illustrate that sometimes writers take feedback more personally than it is meant. Also, when processing feedback you do not have to take every suggestion literally nor should you ignore suggestions repeated by several people. You do not need to change your entire poem or story to reflect others’ personal preferences but if several people find that they stumble over certain parts of your writing you may need to revisit and revise. You can also take a break from your piece and revisit it after you’ve allowed the feedback to sink in so that you are prepared to look at your work in a refreshed perspective and therefore you are more open-minded to revision.
As for giving feedback, try to be as unbiased as possible. Joni Cole has sections titled “A Right Way and a Wrong Way,” and “Can You Please Be More Specific!” For example: Joni notes that when reading other writers’ work, that this isn’t about your personal preferences; this is about the writer’s work and vision at hand. Does it make sense? Is it grammatically and punctually correct? Does the poem or story flow easily or are there awkward pauses or turns that could be smoothed over? Also, use specific comments so that the writer knows what really needs to be fixed. For poetry, you could point to a stanza or line that you feel needs to be revised either for clarity or eliminated altogether. For stories, there may be an awkward turn or ending that doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. Always try to find something positive to say even if you don’t personally enjoy the type of writing or subject. The writer took the time and effort to write something that they then opened themselves to sharing with you. Praise their effort, the lines or paragraphs that work, the flow and rhythm, the imagery, anything that strikes a positive note with you.
Finally, Joni Cole’s ultimate conclusion is that writers need other writers. If you do not know of any writers yet then you can easily seek them out by making connections with local writers by attending conferences, workshops, or going to readings and introducing yourself. I have met many writers through my blog and can send an e-mail when I feel stuck or just need an extra pair of eyes. Joni Cole has an entire section devoted to creating a workshop titled “Hey, Let’s Put On A Workshop!” She describes how you can also create your own workshop based out of your own home. I joined a writing group in exactly this way: An on-line “Meet-Up” site had a writer calling for other writers to meet once a week. At the time I had not started this blog and I had never taken poetry seriously but the open invitation called to me and so I joined and I have never regretted it. It disbanded several months later because every member except myself had moved out of state but if I hadn’t joined I would never have started my blog and I may never have had the courage to send poems out for publication. Workshops and groups are wonderful ways to meet writers who can encourage one another’s work and I urge you to try it if you haven’t already.
There are many parts of this book I wish I could reproduce in their entirety and there is even more I could include in this review. Joni Cole makes a case for taking creative writing courses, for appreciating “bad writing” and provides tips on producing healthy and productive discussions in groups and is unafraid to reveal her own shortcomings on her own journey as a writer and feedback provider. I have been savoring this book for weeks now and I believe you will, too. It has given me renewed vigor for my own writing and I’m sure it will for you, too.
Joni B. Cole has written for magazines, has published books such as the “This Day…” series, Watercooler Diaries, and will be publishing a collection of stories on September 6th titled: Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior.
To learn more about Joni Cole and her current and upcoming books, please visit her web-site at:
To order a copy of her book, Toxic Feedback, which I highly recommend, for $11.00 paperback or $9.95 for Kindle, go to:
Thanks always for reading, please click in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…