Occasional Ravings: Never mind the jabberwocky, there are worse critters out there.

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 19, 2021

From my time spent among peers, professors, and industry professionals in an MFA program, I learned the value of feedback to a writer. However, not all feedback is productive. We even discussed other MFA programs and top-level writing workshops and noted how their feedback can harm and create barriers. I’ve avoided “community” feedback sites, or contests that rely upon reader feedback because they tend to create bias and bitterness. What a writer needs to grow is productive feedback. What will improve a piece of writing? Learning to question is useful. Questions like, “Have you thought about …” or “What if…” Doug makes good points. If you’d like to discuss feedback, let me know your thoughts!

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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I like how you’re handling your recent request for feedback regarding the forwarding of Carrot Ranch.
    ( https://carrotranch.com/2021/06/03/june-3-flash-fiction-challenge-2/ )

    As alluded to in a recent Saloon chat, many primary/elementary classrooms do workshop the writing and a part of that was also feedback from peers. We always encouraged specific feedback. When I went to middle school it was all math for me but even in that subject I did as my colleagues in the humanities and in science did: CRE (or was it CER) Claim, Evidence, Reasoning for a response to _____.
    As I read somewhere else recently, we all have a right to an opinion, but also a responsibility to support that opinion and even to revise it. (There’s also an idea that one can keep one’s opinion to one’s self.)
    But a supported claim with specifics (evidence) from the text can be encouraging and constructive, perhaps more so than unsupported and hollow words of praise.

    So: I like what you did here because it shows that you are listening to your Ranchers and truly considering us as you continue to further your vision and mission for the Carrot Ranch community. Doug gives us all food for thought as he shares his experiences and his informed opinions.

    • Doug Jacquier

      Thanks, D. Could not agree more with your observation that ‘specifics (evidence) from the text can be encouraging and constructive, perhaps more so than unsupported and hollow words of praise.’

    • Colleen M. Chesebro

      I’m looking for constructive criticism… always. I like what you said D. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Specifics are important. If submitting to a contest or literary journal, the organizers are the ones to set specifics in the way of criteria. Peer feedback is good, provided peers also follow the specifics.

      As for opinions, they too need to be specific. If a peer doesn’t like purple plums and the author wrote an ode to the fruit, it’s not helpful to express the opinion that purple plums are the worst fruit ever. It’s specific, but how does that relate to the criteria or improve the writing?

      Evidence should be encouraging and constructive. And can be worded in the format of questions to help a writer process. Praise need not be hollow if peers praise what they engaged with (humor, surprise, poignancy). But that’s also being specific.

      I appreciate you adding to the conversation and sharing CER! Thanks, D.!

  2. Colleen M. Chesebro

    I think many writers are looking for ways to improve their writing. I know I am! I just don’t want writing advice from someone that doesn’t know how to write any better than I do. That’s why your teaching credentials are so important, D. and Charli. <3

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yikes! Not sure I belong in the same sentence as Perfesser Mills!
      I only mean to say that around these parts comments should be kind and if made, specifics can help a writer see what worked and validate their efforts. But the Ranch challenges, in my opinion, are not where one should give or get advice. I learn here from reading and seeing what others have done and through the simple act of taking part, in writing my 99 words no more no less, some weeks better crafted than others, but these days getting pen to page is an achievement.
      Sounds like there are and will be other opportunities and places for writing advice and feedback. I trust Charli (because she is trustworthy) and has maintained a safe space for writing raw and taking risks since the get-go. And I admire her for furthering her vision and broadening her offerings for those who want that.

      • Charli Mills

        You mean Perfesser Mills who had to call her Ranch Yarnist and ask, what the blazes is “pedagogy”? Yer a mighty fine teach, D. I agree. Peer review is not for the weekly challenges. Writers who get to the point of seeking critique have to conquer a different set of vulnerabilities to learn how to give and take feedback in a productive manner. Real harm can be unintentionally given when writers are exploring their voice and finding their creative courage. Mentoring is perfect for the challenge because mentoring is encouragement. Coaching, on the other hand, is a great way to learn critique because it is rooted in encouraging growth but more mindful of directing mastery of craft and revision skills. Keep that pen poised. Eventually, the nib will seek the page.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Oh, D.! Yes!! I’ve learned so much from you, Charli and many others at Carrot Ranch on our flash fiction challenges. I do read constantly about our writing craft and poetry too! I think I should take a class on how to outline and plan my novel. How do you know your ideas are worth writing? I have so many questions! ??????

    • Charli Mills

      Colleen you are right to point out the importance of teaching credentials. D. might balk at sharing a sentence with someone who has (a very new) MFA, but I’ve sought D.’s advice numerous times as an educator (and likely will again). Knowing how to teach is vital.

      Lots of authors teach master classes because they write best-sellers and have achieved celebrity status, but that doesn’t mean they can teach. Yet, as you also point out, you can’t learn from someone who hasn’t learned more than you. I’ve found that learning to improve writing takes many different types of skills. Language, creative writing craft, ability to revise.

      We all have access to the best education and that is reading. Although we could all debate “classics” we need to monitor that we are reading books by authors who have mastered the craft. We also each need to find our own voice. I think you do that well through your study and writing of form poetry.

      Credentials are important to consider when learning. Thanks for adding to the discussion! <3

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Thank you, Charli. That’s why I love my Carrot Ranchers! You all inspire me. Thank you. ??

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, Colleen, as you know from your literary citizenship, the inspiration within a community is endless and refreshing. The Artist’s Way says to take your inner artist on a date each week to experience the art of others because art inspires art. Our challenges and responses are artist dates! The gratitude is shared! <3

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