While feedback is critical for any writer, getting feedback too early can be a distraction. But by seeing writing as a four-stage process---Madman, Architect, Carpenter, and Judge---it becomes easier to wait until the right time to see the input of others.

Feedback and the Four Stages of Writing: Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge

By: Jeffrey Caminsky

Getting feedback is critical for any writer. Our minds may be full of ideas, but no matter how insightful we may be, unless we can reach the reader—and communicate what we are trying to say in a way that resonates in the mind of the audience—we are likely to disappoint not only our audience, but also ourselves. Sharing our work with a trusted friend or colleague can free us from the trap of editing our own work, and seeing what we wrote, rather than what we typed. It also lets us see how our words appear to those who are reading them, and can alert us to problems that, since we understand perfectly well what we meant, we may never notice.

Unfortunately, life is brimming with mixed blessings. And the drawback to getting feedback from others is that we may become so attuned to correcting small problems relating to composition that we forget the larger ones—those relating to the substance of what we are saying. If we become so focused on responding to feedback, we may very well lose track of our subject. If this happens, our writing may be engaging and flawless, but we will find ourselves without anything to say.

Perhaps the trick is to wait until you have a first draft more or less completed, before looking for feedback. In this way, we are already well into revisions, and ready to begin the task of smoothing out the flaws in what you have written. Of course, blindly doing it this way can lead to dead ends and unanticipated literary cul-de-sacs, since we cannot always see the flaws in our arguments or plot lines if they are not fully developed. And so the critical thing for any writer to remember is to avoid getting distracted by details while still in the creative stage.

Some years ago, a writing instructor at the University of Texas named Betty Flowers devised a helpful approach by distilling the various phases of writing into four main stages: madman, architect, carpenter, and judge. More recently, this approach has been adopted and advanced by Brian Garner, a fine writer in his own right and a leader of the "Plain English" movement in the legal profession. The Madman phase is when the writer is jotting down ideas furiously, trying to tie together all the madly firing neurons whose sparks are creating ideas—some good, some bad...and, we all hope, some brilliant. The Architect stage is when the writer is organizing these ideas into something resembling coherence. As the Carpenter, the writer is actually doing the writing...quickly, without pausing too much for polishing, since the critical part of this task is getting everything set down before it vanishes. And the Judge is the editor...who dispassionately chops and cuts and polishes the work—correcting the grammar, smoothing out the rough spots in the prose, and filling any holes that were left by the Carpenter. The most critical task of any writer is to keep the Judge at bay until the very end—for if he interferes with the work before it is ready, the entire project gets bogged down in details that do nothing but get in the way of writing.

Feedback is critical for any writer. But getting too much feedback before being done with the "rough carpentry work" is always a mistake.