Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Feedback: How To Give It How To Get It

I'm very pleased to welcome Jo Sparkes who's blogging on her new book Feedback: How To Give It How to Get It.
Jo will be giving away a $50 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

Feedback … a kinder word for criticism, is an organic component to life.
When a toddler learns to walk, he falls. He screams, cries – and persists. What would happen to the human race if he gave up after a few bumps?
Before we could read self-help books, before we could understand a language and sit in a classroom, we learned by trial and error. “Feedback” is the natural teaching process. It’s how the creator set it up. It’s how the world actually works.
Here, at last, is a simple process for getting the most from all the feedback the world offers us.

Blog question for Jo: What's the best feed back you ever rcv'd, and why.   What's the worst and why.
Do you know, I had to really think about these!
The worst feedback is probably an incident when I was a junior in high school. I were taking a piano class with 30 others. I loved 'playing' at playing, and I was very good at memorizing songs. I had Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata memorized.
Learning to read music, however, was at a rough stage. I could slowly translate it, but not fast enough to play from sheet music.
The day came when we were going to have a recital, and the teacher listened to each student, and gave them feedback on the first six weeks. She complimented my playing, and urged me to be in the recital. I had a few reservations – I knew I couldn't read music, and was performing from memory. She didn't realize that, and I didn't tell her.
Besides, there was a really cool, popular girl in the class, who had all the cute guys hanging around her. She spoke to me – to coordinate what we'd play. I felt like I was one of the in crowd. How could I not play Moonlight Sonata?
As we prepared, my teacher listened and gave a few pointers. So did the popular girl, who was very good, I must say. That little voice in my head whispered I should be careful. But I was enjoying all the attention too much.
The day of the recital had an audience of forty parents, all dressed up and sitting quietly. The popular girl got such applause when she was done, and I wanted to hear that same applause.
I sat down, opened the music, put my fingers on the keys, and played the opening bars. And then my mind went blank. In my nervousness I had forgotten the song. And I certainly couldn't read the sheet in front of me.
I thought, I'll hit this next note – and if that's not it …
I struck the keys. That wasn't it.
I can still hear the dead silence in the room when I stood and faced that audience. “That's all I remember.”
You could hear a pin drop as I walked to the exit. Then there was polite applause – until the closing door cut it off.
Even as I write this now my cheeks are burning red.
The funny thing is, I would have loved to blame that on the feedback, or the teacher, or anyone else but myself. There is no one else to blame, however. And, well, I lived and learned.
The best feedback was when I started a karate class. I was out of college and working by then.
We began as white belts, and most tested for their next belt – an orange belt – within the first 4 weeks. I was not exactly a prodigy, however, and eight weeks later I was very discouraged.
The Master of the Dojo talked to me. He gave me feedback on improving my moves, on getting out of a wristlock, and how to practice a little more effectively. I bit my lip and nodded – feeling very much like that girl who couldn't play at the piano recital.
I think he saw where my emotions were. He took me to a class where the black belts were working hard. I watched them throwing each other around, moving at lightning speed, and looking like all the things I was not.
“You know what a black belt is?” the Master asked me.
“Perfection,” I sighed. “All the things I am not.”
He looked me in the eye. “A black belt is just a white belt who never quit.”
 That one thought has prevailed through a lot challenges. Whenever I'm not sure I'll make it, when I fear I am back at that recital – I look at the great writers, the great teachers, all the people I admire. They only got where they are because they never quit.
And then I push on.
Sandra, thank you so much for having me today!

- Jo

For some reason it's easy to cling to criticism. To walk through the world telling yourself, “I can't act my way out of a paper bag,” or “my work is sloppy no matter what I do.”
     If you think about it, you probably can recall criticism you heard as a child. When I was eight-years-old, I overheard my father tell my mother I was lazy. To this day, if I'm not getting everything done as fast as I wish, if things are piling up on my desk, I can hear him saying, “she's lazy!”
     Clinging to criticism, to all the negative comments or snide remarks we've heard over the years, creates a very heavy burden. If you walk through the world so weighted down, you will inevitably slow and finally stop altogether from the sheer pressure.
     All you can humanly do is what we just did. Take in the information, analyze it, and decide what to do. There is nothing more to be done.
     It – the criticism – has served you. Now send it on its merry way.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

A well-known Century City Producer once said that Jo Sparkes "writes some of the best dialogue I’ve read." Not only are those words a compliment to Jo’s skills as a writer,but a true reflection of her commitment to her work.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Washington College, a small liberal arts college famous for its creative writing program. Years later, Jo renounced life in the corporate world to pursue her passion for writing.
Taking every class she could find, she had the good fortune to study with Robert Powell; a student of renowned writers and teachers Lew Hunter, and Richard Walter, head and heart of UCLA’s Screenwriting Program.
The culmination of those years was the short-film "The Image", which she wrote and produced single-handedly. And in so doing, she became fascinated with the dynamics of collaboration on a project.
Since then, Jo hasn’t looked back.  Her body of work includes scripts for Children’s live-action and animated television programs, a direct to video Children’s DVD, television commercials and corporate videos. She's been a feature writer on ReZoom.com and a contributing writer for the Arizona Sports Fans Network; where she was called their most popular writer, known for her humorous articles, player interviews and game coverage. Jo was unofficially the first to interview Emmitt Smith when he arrived in Arizona to play for the Cardinals.
She has adjunct taught at the Film School at Scottsdale Community College, has teamed with a Producer on a low budget thriller, and a Director on a New Dramady.” She went in front of the camera for a video, “Stepping Above Criticism”, capturing a popular talk with her students.
Her new book, FEEDBACK  HOW TO GIVE IT  HOW TO GET IT, shares her lessons learned with writers, and indeed everyone dealing with life's criticism.
When not diligently perfecting her craft, Jo can be found exploring her new home of Portland, Oregon, along with her husband Ian, and their dog Oscar.


  1. I really enjoyed your story about the black belts. That's such a great way of looking at things!

  2. “A black belt is just a white belt who never quit.” - this hit me with full force. WONDERFUL!!


  3. My pleasure. I too was struck with the black belt reference, especially since I'm testing for kickboxing Saturday:)

  4. Your Dojo was wise.

    I can't think of the best criticim/advice I received, but it probably came from my mom.

    The worst came from another adult family member when I was 16: You are not going to make it in the real world.

    Yep. I'm going to listen to your Dojo.

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  6. Sandra -- best of luck on the kickboxing!

    Thank you all for the very nice comments. If it can help, I'm glad to share.

    And thanks for having me!

  7. Thanks, Jo. I appreciate it. I'll need it:) Its a pleasure to have you.

  8. I think feedback is important, but more than that, the way it is given is very important. When I was young, I wanted to be an artist. I drew a picture I thought was great, but my teacher laughed at it. I never drew anything again.

  9. @ MomJane - I am so sorry to hear that. Sometimes we don't appreciate just how much our reaction can impact others -- especially children.

    If you still have the slightest wish to be an artist -- do it! For yourself, if for no other audience.

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  11. Just popping in to say HI and sorry I missed visiting with you on party day! Enjoyed reading about your book.

  12. The anecdotes are great. It's interesting to see your varied background, too (children's and sports writing are both demanding in different ways, and probably both fields where you got lots of instant feedback).


  13. Thanks for the great interview and review. Gale pgan427@yahoo.com