There is a scene in the film Henry and June in which Fred Ward (as Henry Miller) and Maria de Madeiros (as Anais Nin) are discussing each other’s writing. This is dicey territory for writers who know each other, and the scene bears this out.
When Anais asks for Henry’s input on her diary, he grabs her manuscript and starts marking it up with notes of what should be changed – without asking her permission.
Being no shrinking violet, Anais voices her objections assertively and Henry becomes defensive and even more critical of her writing. She then launches into her own uninvited critique of his writing – specifically about how he depicts women in his work. Soon it is clear that we are no longer viewing a literary discussion about the merits of their writing styles.
The next thing you know, fists are flying and a violent, mixed-gender scuffle ensues. Thankfully, no bones are broken, and they soon transmute their hurt and anger into passionate sex. That’s some serious foreplay!
Henry’s wife, June (Uma Thurman), also gives him some scorching feedback about his portrayal of her in his novel, and this leads to a nasty argument. Henry and June’s conflicts are more about bruised egos and struggles for power than they are about literary analysis. For better or worse, this is the human territory of giving and receiving feedback about writing.
It’s complicated because people are complicated. Relationships and writing are both connected with primal, emotional and personal aspects of our existence. When you think about speaking to someone about their writing, be thoughtful. Do they want your feedback? What kind of input would be useful but not too damaging to your relationship? What is the best way to phrase your feedback? What should be withheld, even if it is true? Are you truly trying to help or are there other shadowy agendas mixed in with your criticism?
And if you decide be harsh and brutally honest with your feedback, don’t assume it will always end with wild sex – you might not get any further than the punch in the face part.