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✏ When to Get Feedback?

Michael Dean
Michael Dean
3 min read

“At what point should I share my essay with editors? Should I ask for feedback as soon as possible, or should I wait until it’s a coherent draft?”

Both! The biggest misconception about feedback is that it’s a singular event. You don’t have to write in isolation for days or weeks (or months) before you finally share it for line-edits. Try to share something at the end of each writing session.

The best practice is to see feedback as a series of phases. From the conception of an idea to the polishing of it, there are different ways to refine it. Before you even put words on a page, you can sneak ideas into conversations to see how others respond. Shock? Awe? Confusion? You can tell if an idea is worth developing from body language alone.

Even once you’re in the land of words on the page, there are different forms of feedback. In the early phases, you can ask your editors for big picture advice. They can help identify your main idea so you can re-organize your whole essay around it. In the middle phases, a reader can point out sentences that are confusing, repetitive, interesting, boring, or surprising (we call this CRIBS feedback). And in the later phases, you can focus on rhythm, voice, and sentence transitions.

It's okay to share half-baked ideas. It can be uncomfortable sharing first drafts, especially with someone who isn’t familiar with the messiness of the creative process. It helps to make writer friends. They’re familiar with early-stage ideas and know how to untangle them.

If you keep your ideas to yourself for too long, you risk getting stuck in your own head. When you rough it on your own, there are plenty of ways to get stranded in the valley of despair. Maybe you get the first draft blues and come to the conclusion that your whole premise is hopeless. Or maybe your perfectionist self kicks in, and you edit into oblivion until you run out of gas.

There are many roads to a retired draft, and they all have one thing in common: assumptions.

Sure, we can guess how to make something better. But the truth is, we can’t predict how our ideas will be perceived. We’re too close to our own thinking. No one is immune from blindspots. It leads to two things: 1) best case, ideas that are boring to us are actually amazing to others, and 2) worst case, our reader has absolutely no idea what we’re talking about. Here’s what David Foster Wallace has to say about this:

“In my experience with students—talented students of writing — the most important thing for them to remember is that someone who is not them and cannot read their mind is going to have to read this. In order to write effectively, you don’t pretend it’s a letter to some individual you know, but you never forget that what you’re engaged in is a communication to another human being. The bromide associated with this is that the reader cannot read your mind. The reader cannot read your mind.”

Until you develop a form of low-grade telepathy, your best bet is to stick with feedback. Editing based on feedback is a proven way to ensure your thinking will be understood. The more you engage with this process, the more airtight your essay will be.

The two points below show you how to refine ideas in a gradual, step-by-step process.

  • One from an alum: Raza Jafri, a Write of Passage alum and comedian, wrote a piece called “Feedback Mountain.” It shows how writers can learn from the way comedian’s develop jokes. “My inner circle allows me to test fresh ideas, my fellow craftsmen give me the expertise in joke writing, and public audiences provide me with continuous data points.” Each phase has strengths and limitations, and one builds into the next. It’s another example that proves feedback isn’t a singular event, but an iterative process.
  • One from us: David Perell’s Content Triangle is another example of running ideas through multiple filters. Here’s what he has to say about it: “Many writers wait until they publish a blog post to share an idea with somebody. I do the opposite. I move from conversations, to tweets, to emails, to blog posts. Each medium provides a different layer of feedback. By the time I’ve published a blog post, I’ve run the ideas through 3-5 filters, and each time I receive feedback, I keep more of what resonates and less of what doesn’t. My best ideas don’t come from flashes of insight. Instead, they emerge from conversations, and other forms of low cost, high-speed trial and error.”
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