I’ve written about how to gracefully accept feedback. But now I’m going to focus on how to gracefully give feedback.
I posted a question on a forum recently. I told them what kind of story I was planning to write and asked if there were any other authors who did that sort of story. Why I asked this was pretty simple, I wanted to seek out those works and see how those writers handled a similar concept. And since I posted this question on a writing forum, full of people with a wide range of experiences on both sides of the literary fence, I expected at least one person to have read such a story and to point me in that direction.
Two people responded with examples of such authors. The rest responded with:
“I don’t know if I would like a story like that.”
“That might turn off some readers.”
“You need to have some good writing chops to pull that off.”
That’s three answers to questions I did not ask. And in no way did I word the question so there would be any confusion as to what I was after.
This puts me in an awkward position. Because of course I want to be gracious and thankful to people who took the time to respond. I also don’t want to project my own frustrations onto these people by making assumptions about why the replied the way they did.
Were they trying to be helpful? Maybe.
But what they’re doing is the forum version of taking your car into a garage for an oil change, only to have the mechanic tear out the insides and do over a thousand dollars worth of repairs for “your own good”. Even if they did it for free, it wasn’t what you asked for and you are well within your rights to be frustrated by this.
Growing up, we had a rule. If someone asks you a question and you don’t have the answer, don’t respond. Plain and simple.
I’ve been guilty of this a number of times. I’ve tried to focus only on what the author of the question is asking and only responding to that, not to what I think they are asking.
Obviously, some people can be a bit cryptic with their inquiries. And I know there are posters on the forum that I’ve been to where you can sum up their entire history with, “Please solve this problem for me.” With those people, you have to just pick your battles.
When you are responding to a question, be sure that you are not allowing your own ego to get in the way. Are you responding because you think the author is a fool? Are you flaunting your experience over that person? Or are you doing it just so you can get a “like” on some forum’s rating system? If so, then you’re responding to their question for the wrong reasons.
We’re all here to help one another. If you can’t answer the question, then don’t just assume that any old answer will do. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to just say nothing.