Firefly’s Feedback Manifesto
1. Writing can improve, but there’s no single direction by which all writing improves.
In other words, our power all lies down different paths. Our job as writers is to find those paths, our paths. To be useful, feedback needs to focus on helping us see and understand our own path to power. The same guidelines that lead one person to their open field of sun will lead another to a thorny ditch of confusion.
Here’s an example: For Earnest Hemingway, cutting down on description and extraneous words created a voice that spoke to millions. For Junot Diaz, letting his prose follow long tangents and deep description created a voice that spoke to millions. If they had given each other advice based on what they knew to be true, we wouldn’t have either of their voices.
2. Our writing voices are tender and vulnerable, especially when we’re just getting used to using them.
We see writing voices like small animals poking their heads out of the ground, flinching at sudden movements. We’ve had thousands of conversations with writers who tell us the same story:
I used to love writing, but then a teacher said I was bad at it.
I used to love writing, but I got feedback in a workshop that made me feel awful.
I used to love writing, but then someone in a class laughed at me.
A tiny bit of harsh feedback can send that skittering animal back into it’s burrow for months, years, lifetimes. Care is required. Kindness is power. The more we can feel safe and encouraged we feel to explore and take changes, the more we move towards our strongest stories and voices.
3. When writing is ready for more analytic feedback, the writer will know and can ask for it.
There is a place on the writing journey when old-fashioned critique from a trusted source is exactly what we need. We believe that this comes when a piece has matured greatly, when we’ve given it all we can, when it feels almost finished. In many Firefly workshops we have space for workshopping — when a writer brings in something they’ve created at home to read and talk about. In those moments, if they feel ready, writers are welcome to ask specific questions about it to the group. We welcome these questions, and we bring all our intelligence and heart to them. But the questions need to come from the writer about work that’s had time to grow and form. When writing is fresh and new, all we will talk about it what we love.
We only step beyond a writer’s questions in one-on-one relationships with coaches who have been trained to hear the unique power, direction and music of someone else’s work.
4. The idea of “rules” for creativity is oppressive and damaging.
The idea that there are rules for writing is like the idea that there are rules for breathing or walking or having sex. It’s personal, it’s cultural, it’s generational, it’s always changing. Ascribing to rules usually means ascribing to the dominant culture. There’s a great article here by Viet Thanh Nguyen about the potential hostility that goes on in writing workshops (usually well under the radar of the teacher) when that’s not understood. He talks beautifully about how even simple writing “rules” like “show don’t tell” can silence people with different perspectives and backgrounds.
The truth is that rules are made by those with power. They can be very useful as tools that we’re encouraged to take or leave, but if they’re held up as universal truths, they only reinforce that power, and silence those without it.
5. The best feedback is the feedback that makes you want to keep writing.
The better we feel about feedback, the more we write. The more we write, the more our writing strengthens. It’s that simple, and that difficult.