should I give feedback to people who haven’t asked for it during a collaborative writing project? — Ask a Manager

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m not fully sure that this fits within the scope of AAM — it’s not work-related, but I feel that there is a great deal of overlap.

I am the head administrator in an online writing group, where members frequently come together to collaborate on writing stories. In some ways, despite it being a hobby that we’re all doing for fun, being an administrator is at times a lot like a job. It falls to me to enforce the rules of our community, such as keeping drama within the stories and not brewing amongst the authors, and ensuring that the stories which are written are appropriate for the fictional setting we’ve established for the group (ranging from not throwing wizards into a modern day small town, to avoiding material that might make members of the group uncomfortable). In addition, my team and I regularly come up with writing prompts and such to keep the members engaged and keep the ideas flowing.

We are a fairly small, close-knit community, but every now and then we welcome someone into the group who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with us, for a number of reasons. Perhaps they don’t spend a lot of time with the group, making it hard for us to get to know them. Usually, it’s that their writing leaves something to be desired, which can result people wanting to collaborate with them less and less over time. I don’t intend for that to come across as cruel – some people are just less experienced with writing, while others seem less inclined to put it a lot of effort.

I’ve always tried to encourage people with their writing, giving them advice on how they can improve and offering to collaborate with people who don’t easily seem to be able to find others to write with. However, creative outlets like this are subjective at best, and I recognize that what may work for me isn’t going to work for everyone. And I think it doesn’t help that I tend to have more demanding standards and take things more seriously than others in my community (and other communities like this one). When I became an administrator, this desire to help also began to feel like a duty. After all, if everyone is writing better, we all produce more interesting stories and everyone is having more fun, right?

However, criticism can be hard to accept, especially in creative pursuits like this. And I know that I can come off as harsh when I’m trying to give criticism or advice, when mostly what I’m trying to do is be direct and clear. As I’ve noted several times, both from personal experience and reading your blog, attempting to soften a message can often lead to the point getting misconstrued in a number of ways.

I guess what my question boils down to is this — is it unnecessary, or even rude, to offer feedback about problems I see with my members, when they haven’t asked for any such feedback? I’ve had it pointed out to me that not everyone who does this activity is looking to improve the way that I am — some just find it fun to play around with story ideas, and are content with their skill level. I’ve also been told that this isn’t a job, and I don’t really need to be taking people to task for not meeting my expectations.

As an example, I find myself frustrated with “Bob.” Often times, he doesn’t put a great deal of effort into his writing, leaving whoever he is collaborating with to craft the bulk of the plotline and move the story forward. It’s bad enough that I refuse to write with him, unless it’s something like a big project that involves the whole group. I am unsure if he knows about my dislike for him, as he is a rather quiet person who rarely asks for others to write with him, so the opportunity has never really come up for me to say, “Sorry, but I’d prefer not to work with you on this.” I’ve received similar complaints about Bob from other members, and have seen the majority of the group gradually drift away from him. It results in us writing with each other instead, leaving Bob with almost no one to partner up with.

In the past, I and others have given him rather softened feedback that he didn’t ask for, and he responds noncommittally or not at all. Simply put, we haven’t seen any changes over the course of a year that would make us want to try writing with him again. And yet, I feel bad for him that he’s so isolated now. I also think that he’s occasionally shown some real creativity in the time that he’s been with us, and maybe some direct feedback on what we feel he’s doing wrong could help encourage him to put more effort in. It could also be the blow to his ego that would make him want to leave the group altogether.

Do you think talking to him is the right idea? Or just let him continue as he is, enjoying the hobby in his own way?

Readers, what’s your advice?

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