When I was growing up, if I felt that a teacher was consistently not giving me sufficient feedback on my writing, I would start to slip things into my essays.
(Are you really reading this?) I’d ask in the middle of an argument.
Nobody ever noticed that.
To be fair, I didn’t do it that often. And when I did, it usually wasn’t on full-blown, quarter-of-your-grade type essays. It was on short assignments graded on some mysterious scale of checks and pluses. The kind of thing you knew the teacher probably wasn’t reading any way.
And I mean that with no disrespect for teachers, but merely as an illustration of something we all do.
Prioritizing, I believe they call it.
I often flippantly joke that if someone asks for my feedback and I respond without any comments or changes, then it probably means that either I didn’t look or I didn’t care.
Because, really, just about everything can be improved.
And “not caring” is just my over dramatic way of saying something’s not a high priority. If I know others are looking at something more closely and therefore my feedback isn’t critical, then often I don’t care. If I know something’s only going to be seen by a handful of people who probably won’t really read it anyway, then often I don’t care. If something’s gone through so many revisions that it’s basically done, but there’s still one more opportunity to check for glaring mistakes, then often…I don’t care.
I mean, I care deeply. But really, I don’t care.
Prioritizing is a fine art.
Much of the time, it’s my work to care – as a writer or as an editor. I review things over and over, fixing this, changing that, playing with the language here and there.
When I’m editing, I’ll notice one small change and think, well, that’s not worth correcting. Then the next small change makes me look more critically. Then before you know it, I’ve turned on track changes and gone back to the beginning.
Because really, I care a lot.
But, sometimes, it’s up to someone else to care. Sometimes, there’s a writer who cares and a few editors who care, and then I know: I don’t have to care
So then I just take a quick look, prioritize other things, and decide it looks fine.
And I know I’m not the only one who does this because of all my teachers who never noticed my sly (are you there?) questions. And because of all the times I’ve gotten sign off on documents that look fine in a 1-second look, but are clearly wrong in a 5-second look.
So I get suspicious when I get no feedback on something. I think feedback is critical. I think more voices leads to better outcomes.
But sometimes, people just don’t have the time to care.