Why You Should Be a Fan of Feedback

Writing seemed too intimate for me to share widely.  These were my babies after all!  But why create stories if you never intend to share them?

You pour all your passion, time, and energy into your stories.  They’re a part of you.

  

The last thing you want to hear is that it’s “no good.”  But it’s the wrong perspective.  The best thing I’ve ever done for my writing was to step out of my private world and let someone else read what I wrote.

Think of phone apps.  As a creator, one of the best ways you can find out what needs fixing is user comments/reviews on your app.  They may even offer suggestions for improvement you hadn’t thought of.  It’s a potential gold mine of information.

But what about those ‘users’ that just write things like, “This app SUCKS and so do U!!!”  Well, first of all you will never please all of the people all of the time.  Period.  Secondly, when getting feedback get used to checking your ego at the door.  It’s also called having thick skin.  The sooner you learn to do this, the better.  If you can’t, this may not be the profession for you.  As my editor friend likes to put it, the professionals ask questions, the amateurs raise objections.

But a word of caution.  All feedback isn’t necessarily good feedback.  How do we discern the good feedback from the bad, all the while keeping our skin nice and thick?  I learned these tips dealing with editors, teachers, and friends along the journey to better writing:

1. Rough drafts are just that, ROUGH.  Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is s***!”  He’s right.  Preparation for feedback is just as important as the feedback itself.  Spit out your first draft, even if you think it sucks.  It’s going to be several drafts before you have anything worthwhile, and several more after that before you have anything worth reading.  Leave it alone for a couple of days, then go over it and polish it up.  Do this a few more times, then find a friend you trust to tell you the truth.  But add a caveat to their read.  They must be able to tell you why something didn’t work for them.  (i.e. ‘It sucks’ won’t cut it.)

2. Ask clarifying questions.  Your feedback readers will have both questions and suggestions.  You may feel the need to defend your work.  Don’t.  Use this time to ask your own questions about their suggestions and other feedback.  Find out specifically why they didn’t like something or what specifically confused them, etc.

3. Your goal is to understand.  This ties in with tip #2.  You’re not there to explain and argue with your feedback reader, because you definitely won’t be there to explain and argue with your future readers.  Did they say a certain part was boring?  Seemed fake?  Unrealistic?  Hard to follow?  Maybe they see one of your characters as devious when you meant them to be virtuous.  Get as many specifics as you can.  Your ultimate goal is to weave such a seamless world your reader forgets they’re even reading a book.  Wherever a feedback reader stumbles is a red flag indicating something needs fixing.

Think of it this way.  If you have to explain it in person for someone to understand what you wrote, you haven’t written it well enough yet.  Be grateful to those who discover your weak points.  They help make you a better writer in the end.

4. Ponder the feedback.  Now that your story has been slashed and thrashed via red pen, it’s time to sort out the feedback.  You don’t have to follow every suggestion you get, nor should you.  It’s your story.  Instead, see the deeper meaning in the suggestion.

Here’s an example.  Say your reader doesn’t believe your character is upset.  They offer you what they see as something that matches the emotion they thought they should see–the death of the protagonist’s father.  Except you know your protag’s father is integral to the story later, so to you that seems like the worst suggestion possible.  This is what I mean by seeing the deeper meaning in the suggestion.  You may not even need to kill anyone, you just need something that gives your protag the motivation to match the emotion.

Taking the time to ponder the feedback will help you discern the real meaning of some suggestions.  Often you’ll come up with an idea you like even better than what you originally wrote.

5. Learn from your feedback.  This is the most important step of all.  Feedback often points out weaknesses we’re blind to because we’re so close to our work.  Knowing your weaknesses enables you to declutter your work so that future feedback becomes more productive.  Once you’ve cleared out your common mistakes other weaknesses will step forward.

For example, if your grammar and spelling is atrocious, the reader is less likely to notice plot holes and poor character development because he’s too busy helping you construct cohesive sentences.  If you apply what you learn from each feedback session, you spend less time on the same old mistakes in the future.

I hope you soon join me in becoming a fan of feedback.  It really can improve your writing tremendously.  Remember,

  • rough drafts are rough
  • ask clarifying questions
  • make your goal to understand
  • ponder your feedback
  • learn from it

And most importantly, remember to check your ego at the door!

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