Blog – The Feedback Paradox

Photo credit: Max Hilton

Back in November, I wrote about how creativity can be unlocked by stopping worrying about how good the thing you’re creating is; and undertaking the process for its own sake. Tied in with that is the idea that what we create should firstly, and some would say entirely, be for ourselves. That is to say, we should paint the sort of picture or write the sort of story that we would enjoy – we should be our own prime audience.

Creating for others, second guessing what our audience wants instead of creating the thing we want, is doomed to failure. Not necessarily because people won’t like it, but because we’re highly unlikely to have created something of real worth or substance. The best art, of any kind, is that which comes from deep within. The more we care about it, the better it will be.

Which would seem to suggest that feedback from others isn’t important. If our opinion of what we’ve done is the one that truly matters, then why should we worry what others think? Yet it’s fair to say that it’s rare for anyone who creates to not care about the opinion of others. We want some kind of reaction – not necessarily that our audience liked it, but that they had some kind of reaction.

We create as a way of expressing ideas, getting those noises or colours or words in our head out into the world. We create to express ourselves; and then to share those ideas. What we create shouldn’t be for our audience but, once created, the audience then becomes an integral part of the process. Thus the Feedback Paradox – we should both care and not care what others think. Schrodinger’s Audience, if you like. We should create as if we are in a vacuum, while always keeping in mind that we are not.

I’ve a difficult relationship with feedback and putting my ideas in front of others. People have suggested I join a writing group but for me the idea of reading my own work, out loud, in front of other people makes my skin itch. Yet, as you can see from the picture above, I’ve recently had to overcome that fear. After self-publishing three books in 2020, my traditional-publishing debut, Playtime’s Over (from Propolis), came out on 22nd July 2021; and on the 21st we held a launch event at Norwich’s Book Hive.

As well as speaking a bit about the book, the event also involved me reading from it – my worst nightmare. It helped that, having been through a publisher and an editor, I wasn’t having to put all my faith in just myself, it felt more like presenting the result of a collaboration. Also, the audience was largely made up of family and friends, though I honestly don’t know if that made it easier or harder. In the end, I actually rather enjoyed myself. I was glad when the reading part was over, true, but I’ve definitely reached that point of the process where I want to know what people think. Even my family.

Feedback is important on many levels. It’s good to find out where we’ve succeeded and where we’ve gone wrong, so that next time we can do better. Even more important, though, is the knowledge that somebody has engaged with our work. Just the act of giving feedback is encouraging in itself, even when it’s not altogether positive, because it tells us that someone cares enough about what we’re doing to have an opinion. So whether we’re writing a blog about a book we’ve read, tweeting about a live performance we’ve been to or talking to a family member about a piece of music they’ve been practising, we’re contributing to the process. By offering our feedback, we are playing a small part in whatever they go on to do next. We’re making a difference to their creative process and becoming part of the momentum that drives them on.

It’s not always easy to listen to feedback, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like for me, reading aloud to a room full of people, if none of them had said anything about it afterwards.