Blogging and Constructive Feedback

When starting my blog six months ago, I was feeling nervous about sharing it with other people. Hitting the publish button on my first post was accompanied by a certain degree of trepidation, even though my blog was safely and obscurely hidden in the far corners of the internet.  To protect myself emotionally from possible criticism by a blogging world of which I knew very little, I also decided to author my posts anonymously. 

Support from the Blogging Community

However, when I made my first self-conscious post on Twitter (another foreign world…what’s a hashtag?) about the arrival of my new blog, I was pleasantly surprised by the initial support I received.  People saw my tweet and visited my blog, leaving encouraging and supportive comments.  My first post featured some of my struggles with a midlife transition (crisis seems a bit overstated), and I was feeling exposed and vulnerable.  The warm reception from other bloggers transformed my self-consciousness into modestly growing confidence.  I felt accepted and safe to explore topics that piqued my curiosity.  This emotional transformation was powerful and I honestly can’t thank the blogging community enough.

The Benefits of Constructive Feedback

While this support has many positive elements, there is a downside, which was effectively and cathartically addressed in a recent post by Jenny of Jenny in Neverland.  Her post inspired me to contemplate how excess positivity can adversely impact the blogging product.

When I was a music student and composer, critiques were a welcomed part of the territory.  I would write music in solitude; receive feedback from my teachers, as well as from other students and composers.  They would discover and express their opinions; citing particular issues with the work.  I was never sensitive about it.  In fact, I welcomed it because, in the end, it was going to make my work better or more successful.

Often, my instructors would provide constructive feedback that seemed to suggest that they could read veiled parts of my mind. For example, if a moment was slightly off, I would often sense it but also be unsure about the source of the problem, as well as possible solutions.  My teachers almost inevitably would find that very subtle moment and reveal the issue.  It blew my mind.  However, more importantly, it allowed me to grow and learn. It was to my benefit that the environment wasn’t overly concerned with niceties and politeness. 

The Issue with Excessive Positivity

In the blogging community, I think this sort of constructive feedback is sorely missing.  People are often too concerned with appearing positive when perhaps true support would be helpful and honest feedback.  In breathing constant positivity, people are sacrificing degrees of honesty and sincerity.  It has become most important to appear as the nice, encouraging, and positive person and blogger than to risk any view to the contrary.  This tendency is perhaps more pronounced in the mental health and wellness blogging community; where the fear of appearing insensitive to a person’s condition is understandable.  Even while writing this post, I feel a degree of fear that I will be viewed as negative or insensitive.

However, in bowing to the pressure of appearing constantly positive, we abandon certain educational opportunities.  Somehow, we have conflated constructive feedback with being negative and have sacrificed the vast benefits of critiques.  However, perhaps we can reframe constructive feedback through the positivity prism; as evidence of thoughtfulness from the critic.     

Not all Feedback is Created Equal

It is important to recognize that not all feedback is created equal.  In other words, not all critical feedback is constructive.  Perhaps, this is part of the issue.  In the internet and social media age, we have become accustomed to vast amounts of trolling; negative feedback that isn’t constructive at all; whose sole purpose is to inflame and aggravate.  Perhaps the unrelenting positivity is a response to this uglier side of internet interaction.  However, if we respond to one extreme with another, we are missing out on the subtle middle ground of constructive critique; where learning and growth can occur. 

Providing Constructive Feedback is a Skill

However, providing constructive feedback is a skill that often must be developed.  As a composition professor, I know that every student is different.  Some require a gentler approach than others.  Depending on the student, I might need to take greater care to balance my more critical thoughts with the strengths of a particular work.

In the blogging world, this might look like the following;

“You introduce a compelling idea in the third paragraph.  I think that idea is ripe for more exploration; either in this post or a future post. I would want to read more of your thoughts as they relate to this concept.”

Issues with Critique in the Blogging World

However, creating this environment in the blogging world is tricky for two reasons.  First, once a blog post is published, it’s public with all the vulnerabilities that stem from being exposed.  A comment on Twitter or in the comment section of a blog post isn’t just between you and the author; it’s public and that adds a layer of sensitivity that should be respected.  Second, feedback often comes after a creative work has been completed, when the author is likely experiencing heightened sensitivity.  It would be far more helpful and educational for the author to receive feedback before a post is published.   

Some have suggested direct messaging or email as a way to provide constructive feedback.  However, this seems like an inefficient way to collaborate; as writing takes time.  It’s more difficult to communicate with sensitivity through writing than it is in person or over the phone.  Perhaps, part of the issue derives from the sensory deprivation inherent to the written word.  The person we are communicating with can’t hear our tone of voice or see our body language. 

Consequently, a written critique takes more time to establish the softening qualities provided by the voice inflection and unthreatening body posture communicated and understood instinctively in face to face interactions.  In addition, when writing a critique to the author, one has to accommodate for the absence of real-time actions and reactions inherent to spoken dialogue.

Blogging Feedback Forum

It would be nice to establish a forum where a natural exchange of ideas could occur.  I envision a situation where bloggers could meet once a week on a conference call to discuss posts in progress; perhaps in groups of three or four.  We could read each other’s posts in advance of the meeting and then provide constructive feedback before the piece is published.  The feedback could be anything from small details of spelling, grammar, and word choice to the larger formal structure of the piece.

For example, a simple comment suggesting that a certain paragraph was unclear upon first reading could be the precise feedback the blogger needs to clarify that particular section.  However, the educational benefits extend beyond the author of the post.  As the reader, we learn from our own thoughtful diagnosis of the piece, but we also gain from the insights of others; as they reveal nuggets of wisdom that perhaps we missed.

These are just some of the real benefits of a truly collaborative experience; that can’t be replicated in isolation.  And in bypassing the constructive feedback offered by collaboration, we are limiting the quality of our own work.   What do you think?  Would you be interested in receiving feedback on posts in progress from your fellow bloggers through a conference call?  What are your ideas to establish a regular method of receiving constructive criticism?