Why feedback is valuable, &c.

Every poem I’ve posted on my blog has, in the accompanying text (along with links to the other places I post the poems), included a plea for “feedback” of any kind. While this hasn’t yet borne much fruit, I’d like to explain why I add this to every poem.

I am my own worst critic. Given a space of time between the composition of a piece and a reread, with very few exceptions I will think it is in drastic need of revision. (Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I have even less skill in revising poetry than I do in writing it.) This decline in my opinion of a piece may or may not have any relationship to its real faults; the trouble is that I don’t know.

But I am not writing to please myself. Other than the few poems that I write on self-commission (for birthdays, one wedding so far, etc.), I generally write poems as they come to me, but if this is a good gift (since “every good gift comes from above”) it was given for a purpose, including at least delight and edification, and I am certain that my work is intended for a wider audience. At present, that wider audience is you.

I first got started writing (way back in fourth grade) with what would now be called fan-fiction set in the wider world of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. But I am afraid that of the bad qualities that peculiarly beset writers, I combine those of the other two major Inklings: I have Tolkien’s unwillingness to publish anything (prose-wise) that isn’t Just Right, and Charles Williams’ unpleasant tendency toward impenetrable allusion (etc.). The former can be resisted by setting deadlines for myself; the latter cannot be detected without the help of readers, since any allusion I make will almost certainly be one I can comprehend.

If I post something you like, say so. Clicking the Facebook “Like” button is a small encouragement, but not very informative, because it doesn’t tell me whether you liked that piece better than something else I posted last week, and in particular it tells me nothing about *why* you liked the piece. A comment saying why you liked it would be more helpful. If you didn’t like a piece for some reason, say so. Similarly, if you didn’t understand something, it’s possible that I might be able to improve it so you can understand it, or at minimum post add a note to the attached text. And even if you thought you understood something, it’s possible you didn’t get what I intended. (If you have time and effort to spare, it would be particularly helpful if you wrote a more substantive critique and posted it on your blog or in a Facebook Note and linked to my piece from it, or merely posted it is a lengthy comment.)

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll continue posting my backlog of poetry. If I’m calculating correctly, I expect to have on the order of sixty poems posted when I run out. This is nearing enough to fill a book. If and when I ever submit them to a publisher or use some print-on-demand service like Lulu, I want to have a book be my best work–and I have very little aptitude at recognizing my own best work. Your comments–and there are a few of my friends whose advice I particularly trust–will help me determine which of my poems are the best.

And one more thing. Poems are generally individual pieces that stand by themselves and do not relate to each other very much, and so I can just post them in a random order. But prose is different. It’s highly sequential, with subsequent chapters depending heavily on what’s come before. And it’s very much the fruit of my labor more than something that “comes to me,” but it’s even harder for me to revise properly without waiting several months than poetry. So I would very much like to have someone, or a group of people, to whom I could send prose for them to check it over before I post it, looking for obvious or less-obvious errors, mistakes, or other flaws and helping me to revise. (Any volunteers?)

So … comments?

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