Receiving Feedback

Jenn Kepka

This is the hard part. It’s difficult enough to acknowledge to ourselves that things are wrong with our own work; it can feel worse when we have to hand over a recently written draft to someone we don’t yet know very well. What if they don’t like it? What if they laugh in the wrong place? What if they don’t know what they’re doing? What if they take this last-minute draft and assume that I’m a terrible writer?

This is the second benefit to trading papers with other students. Yes, handing over your paper makes you vulnerable — but the student you trade with is having exactly that same experience. Learning comes from vulnerability, from admitting that we don’t know everything, that we might — on occasion — need some help.

Peer Review relies on collaboration — the art of working together to create something. When you collaborate with someone else, you share ideas — you don’t compete to see who’s got the better idea (or paper). Instead, your goal is to make the best end product — paper, project, presentation — that you can.

Go into Peer Review with this mindset, and you’ll have a successful session no matter with whom you’re paired. Remind yourself, as you edit, that your goal is to help make the paper you’re looking at into the best version of itself that you can. Remind yourself, as well, when you hand over your own work, that everyone who reads it is supposed to be doing exactly the same thing — trying to help that paper become the best paper it can be.

Writing classes require trust. Sometimes, particularly in writing that requires observation or story-telling, you may be sharing personal details. It can feel crushing to receive even the gentlest feedback when it’s aimed at writing about an emotional or meaningful piece. But always remember: any feedback you receive is not about you, as a person, or even you, as a writer: it’s about the paper that’s in front of you. The feedback you receive is on the two or three (or five, or eight, less than one) hours of time and effort that you put into this particular paper in this particular class for this particular week. Negative feedback doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, just as glowing feedback doesn’t mean you’re the next Shakespeare. It’s only about what’s in front of your classmates right now.

Negative feedback generally means that the reader struggled with something in your piece: either they couldn’t follow the timeline, or they couldn’t see enough detail to understand your point, or they were otherwise confused. It never means they don’t like you; it just means they found places where your work could use some changes. Whether you take their suggestions or not is up to you. You own your own work. However, remember that they want to help, so their feedback should have some use to you. Use it to decide where to spend time as you revise.

 

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