Feedback — love it or hate it, it’s a necessary part of a managing editor’s job. But for something integral to our jobs, why do we get so uncomfortable with creative feedback? We checked in with three creative professionals on how they’ve gone through the gauntlet of constructive criticism and come out unscathed.
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Learn from Reality TV
Angus Woodward is a Baton Rouge-based novelist and the founding director of the Center for Innovative Teaching & Engagement at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University. Because he is both a writer and professor, Angus has an intimate understanding of the feedback process. Angus attributes his own openness to feedback to a “thick skin” born from writing countless drafts of novels and teaching numerous classes and workshops.
But learning to receive feedback is also a skill. It isn’t just about having that thick skin, but also understanding how to sort through the sometimes contradictory nature of the notes you receive. “If you’re workshopping a story and 10 people are discussing it, they’re not all going to come to a consensus on what could improve the story,” Angus says.
As you grow more accustomed to receiving feedback, you will also learn how to sort through the advice and critiques that work for you — and understanding the biases some people have. To better understand the issue, Angus recommends thinking about your various sources of feedback as judges on a certain television show:
“It's sort of like American Idol, right? Where if Simon Cowell says you're singing was just OK, then maybe it was pretty damn good.”
Ave Shalom is a creative director at Aon. Not only is she responsible for overseeing a team of designers and writers, but she is also the liaison between that team and the client. So we figured she’s an excellent person to speak with about the challenges of giving feedback.
Ave has two principles she sticks by when addressing an employee’s work. First, she ensures that she is able to talk through why a piece isn’t responding to her. Editors must provide the “why” when giving feedback, as opposed to simply saying they don’t like a piece.
Ave’s second principle involves how she judges a piece. “I try and look at things through the eyes of the first person who sees it,” she says. This means trying to see the work essentially through an amateur’s eyes to attempt to gauge how the general public may react to it. Of course, this is a challenge when you’ve been through multiple concepts or iterations. So Ave has a technique she uses to try to get that clear frame of mind:
“In order to get fresh again, I just turn away — and then I look at it.”
Feedback … About Feedback
Rex New is a writer on our team, and he has also worked as a screenwriter. He co-wrote Dance Camp, YouTube’s first original movie, and he contributes behind-the-scenes on Margins from Managing Editor, helping write each episode.
Like a lot of writers, Rex has received a lot of memorable feedback, both constructive and … well, not so constructive. But he told us about the best feedback he’s ever gotten. It was literally feedback … about feedback.
The moment came after a screening of the movie “Friends with Benefits,” where the movie’s director, Will Gluck, was giving a question-and-answer session. When asked about the process of feedback and revisions, Gluck gave an answer that has always struck with Rex. Gluck explained that a lot of times when people are struggling with something in their script, they are really having issues with something that happened 10 pages earlier. Essentially, the core issue has a ripple effect that taints all that comes after it. “I thought it was really illuminating in terms of making sure your structure is right, your character stuff is right — all that stuff,” says Rex. “Those things are so interconnected.”
It was a piece of wisdom that changed how Rex both revises and approaches the feedback he gives to others:
“It’s my golden rule.”
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