Discernment can be defined as “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” This term, however, is most often associated within a spiritual context to obtain direction and understanding.
But when you’re a writer, discernment is one of the most important, if not the most important factor in how you will decide who has the ability to judge well — who you will allow to give you feedback on your writing.
For the past several years, I’ve written many articles without consideration of feedback beyond the comments section. During these years, I didn’t seek out feedback for my writing due to the following concerns:
I was worried the feedback would be negative.
I didn’t know whom to ask.
I didn’t know how to ask.
It wasn’t until I began to write my first book when I came to understand how truly important the right feedback is to writing.
Now, I’m not referring to feedback which sugarcoats what should not be sugarcoated. I’m referring to feedback that is actually helpful, sincere, and in alignment with the highest vision for your writing.
So how do you determine whom to ask for feedback?
When I began to write the book, out of nowhere I became a part of a writing group. I wasn’t looking for a group to join, someone to write with or anything that would take more of my time away from writing. I was simply meeting friends for coffee, who just so happened to love writing as much as I do!
During coffee, my friend said, “We should do this again, maybe next week at my apartment, so we can discuss the screenplay without interruption.” The four of us agreed and we began to meet on a weekly basis to talk about screenwriting. Since I didn’t have anything on paper in the form of a screenplay, I slowly began to share details about the book I was working on.
Now, let me be clear, I have a few friends who are writers, but for some reason I have not been able to identify why I do not feel comfortable sharing my work with them. I’ve tried to understand why, but then I gave up. I decided I didn’t need to know why. The fact that I didn’t feel comfortable was reason enough. So I went with that.
With regards to my writing group, these women are also friends. The difference is, I sense there is something about each of them that is settled, at ease, honest and trustworthy.
When I finally got the nerve to ask them to read one of my chapters, I was nervous. It was the first time I had ever shared something so personal, and so dear to my heart. But they were the perfect people to share it with. They each have individual and specific experience in areas of writing that I do not. But most importantly, after many candid discussions about my intention for the book and my writing, they began to understand where I was coming from.
They could then read the material and tell me if what I wrote is consistent with the overall intention of the book, if it reads true, is engaging and has flow. They are able to tell me if the story makes sense, or if I’ve somehow gotten lost in details, or have drifted off point or swayed too far in any direction.
The feedback began to feel as if we are a relationship, where each of us has a safe place to explore writing as an extension of ourselves. The space is safe, not sugarcoated safe, but honestly safe.
I can now be specific about where I am in the writing process and the kind of feedback that helps. I have trusted individuals with whom I can say, “I’m really struggling with this chapter. Could you read it and see if the ideas flow in a cohesive order?” I know the precise stage of my writing process when I need feedback: when I am just beginning and when I think I am finished! I have been able to figure out when I benefit from feedback the most, and the ways to ask for that feedback effectively.
The thing to be clear about as a writer is, there will always be someone who can give feedback. However, not all feedback is right for you. You have to take the time to use discernment to assess if the person is compatible with your writing.
If you’re running around like a “chicken with its head cut off”, asking for feedback from people who are not compatible with your writing, that’s exactly what you’ll get: feedback that is not compatible with your writing, what you’re trying to do, or the story that wants to be told through you.
Clarity around what you’re writing about will help you to determine who is a good fit for feedback. Again, it’s not about only asking people who will tell you what you want to hear or even industry professionals. It’s about asking someone who cares about the craft, is interested in the craft, and is skilled enough to provide something concrete, something you can actually learn from.
Be clear if you trust the person giving you feedback. Pay attention to how the feedback feels in your center — "decide if the person is right about what’s wrong with your story or if they’re trying to take it in a different direction than you originally intended.”
And last, but not least, trust yourself. Trust what you are capable of doing, what you are creating and writing. The first draft may not be perfect, but with time, perseverance, and love infused into your craft and good feedback, you are well on your way to honing your absolute best instinctive writing skills.