We study optical feedback mechanisms occurring during growth of multi-walled carbon nanotube forests on transparent substrates. Growth is realised via laser-induced chemical vapour deposition using iron nanoparticle catalysts. In situ Raman and reflection spectroscopy employed clearly distinguish three growth phases. In the initial seed phase, growth of carbon nanostructures increases the laser absorption and this feedback enables growth of radially orientated carbon nanotubes. Understanding the laser interaction with the growing nanostructure holds the key towards controlled growth and opens up new routes to nanostructure and nanodevice design and fabrication.