It was a watershed week for me in terms of my writing.
Years from now when I’m an incredibly famous writer and there are awards stacked like pancakes on my desk and I’m asked to give readings in bookstores that smell like coffee and the New York Times Review of Books has me on its front page, I’ll trace my success to this week in history.
I asked for feedback.
I asked for feedback from someone more skilled than me in word craft. I wasn’t looking for compliments. I was looking for a piece I badly wanted to be good to be made better. It was an essay about being in a prayer march the day after a six-year-old boy was shot running up the stairs of his grandmother’s front porch. I ached all over the page.
So I waited for my friend’s feedback. I checked my email two, three, four times. She asked me to wait until morning so I waited more. And then it came. Two pages of her thinking about my essay, why it didn’t quite hang together, what was beautiful about it, what was extra, too much, what paths there might be to a better essay.
I digested what she said, thought about each suggestion. And then I changed my piece. I made it better.
In my English class, my professor deducted a point last week for grammar and syntax or some such thing. I immediately sent her an email. Please tell me where I messed up, I asked, only somewhat sincerely, so full of myself about my writing.
She sent back my assignment with track changes. She noted that I had written a “fused sentence” and I’d used a “comma splice.” I didn’t know what those things were so I had to Google them. I realized that I often wrote things that had both of these bad things because, you know, as a blogger, my writing just flows, it can’t be constrained by the rigid rules of writing, my consciousness needs its freedom, I need to breathe, I need to be free to splice commas and fuse sentences.
I surprised myself. I didn’t get mad. I thanked her.
I’m an old gal, I’ve been writing for a long time, and I’ve been getting better, bit by bit. But this here, this feedback thing, this changes everything.
There was then and then there’s now. I’m going places I haven’t been before.