Would the man, the boy, and the donkey have left the walls of their cozy and sturdy farm if they had known the tragedy that was in store for them that day? Of course they would have. What a silly thing to ask. For what comes from fearing the unknown but empty tummies and hearts strained by stress? Better to take that walk to the market square and shake hands with feedback. Only compared to them, you’re not going to hoist the donkey over your heads.
For those who may be a little more than lost right now, The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey is an old Aesop fable about—you guessed it, a farmer, his son, and their beloved donkey who are met with constant criticism about how they are walking to the market square. And the farmer, feeling quite embarrassed over the critiques, tries to make amends to their behaviors to match the critiques. This goes on until the donkey is hoisted into the air, its legs tied to a pole, and ends up being dropped into the river below where it drowns.
Sometimes, in your own writing, you may feel just like the farmer. You may receive feedback—whether they are constructive criticisms, abrasive scorn, thoughtful comments, suggestive rewrites, or a combination of the four—that makes you feel like everything you are doing is wrong and maybe, just maybe, you don’t actually know what you are doing.
So I’m going to stop you right there. While you shouldn’t outright reject any feedback you receive on your work, you shouldn’t take it at face value and feel like you need to re-do everything. Instead, remember this: All the travellers on the road have their own lives and their own ways of riding a donkey. So in some ways, their feedback is valid. It just might not always be relevant with your own ideas or, in that case, to the farmer’s situation.
When you are receiving feedback, take a step back. Think about where the feedback is coming from, whether it is from a different perspective or because something wasn’t clear enough in your work, and try to figure out what the feedback means for your work. The feedback may also show you where you need to improve in your writing, even if the content of it isn’t the most relevant to your vision.
Keep in mind that research is a crucial tool when it comes to writing and relieving your anxiety over writing, especially if you are thinking about incorporating ideas, places, and concepts you don’t have first hand experience with. Perhaps more importantly, research will keep you from perpetuating stereotypes so you don’t tumble into creeks of controversy like Anders Carlson-Wee’s poem “HOW-TO”. If you are looking for insight on how to conduct research for your writing projects, I would suggest taking a look at Kristen Kieffer’s advice on researching for novels.
I know sometimes it’s hard to receive feedback. It can even be discouraging. But know that you are allowed to take a step back and think about where it’s coming from. Don’t feel like you need to lift the donkey over your head. It’s not the smartest move anyway.
Meet the blogger:
KIERANN ELLIOTT lives and works in the Twin Cities. Her work has been published in The Fulcrum.