Just change the word reaper to feedback and let that play as a soundtrack for you mind. Don’t Fear the Feedback—the fourth installment of the How to Edit Your Novel series.
You may get your feedback face to face or you may get it in an email, but the most important thing when receiving feedback is to receive it with dignity and grace. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. Whoever is telling you what they think is wrong with your story took the time to read the thing. Even if you think they are 100% wrong (unlikely) they deserve your thanks for making the effort.
So at the very least, I want you to memorize this phrase: Thank you for your feedback. You’ve given me a lot to think about.
Your first reaction may be to explain why you wrote it the way you did. Don’t. You may feel like you need to defend your work. Don’t. You may even be inclined to tell them why they don’t know what they’re talking about. Definitely don’t.
If you are to utter any words it’s to say thank you. But, it’s also to ask questions. There’s nothing wrong with clarifying what they’re telling you. For example, if they said something like:
“Your first chapter didn’t make any sense.”
It’s perfectly all right for you to say:
“Can you tell me a few things you found particularly confusing?”
Or perhaps they say:
“There’s just no tension. I feel like nothing’s happening.”
You can say something like:
“Can you give me an example of what you mean? Maybe you can point to one place where you think more tension would help?”
Etc. etc. etc. Whatever the feedback you don’t agree with or you’re puzzled by, it’s perfectly within reason to ask about it. Questions? Yes. Defend? No. Something I learned from my editor friend that I’ve stated before and I’ll state again is:
When it comes to editing, the amateurs raise objections, the professionals ask questions.
Believe me, I’ve been in situations where I had to fight tears it felt so harsh. But I asked more clarifying questions and even though I didn’t agree with everything they said I still got a lot of good advice from the situation. It’s hard to take feedback, but the more you’re willing to accept your story is flawed (and it is) the more you’ll grow.
NOW THE FEEDBACK
You did it. You sent your story out to beta readers, you presented it in your writers group, or you took it to a workshop. Did you soar? Bellyflop? More than likely you came away with several suggestions. Time to sort it out.
Fix the obvious mistakes. Some of the feedback may have included typos or suggestions on things you agree with and can easily change. Make those changes first. See if you can’t apply it to the rest of your manuscript as well. (Maybe you use the same phrases over and over, or lots of words like actually, usually, etc.)
Sort the rest. I had a short story I took to writers group where 80% of the group loved it and the 20% didn’t know what was going on. Does that mean I completely ignore the 20%? Nope. But it does mean I don’t solely cater to the 20%.
Listen to what they’re suggesting and take a look at your work. Are there things you can do to clarify it without making huge changes? I added a couple carefully crafted sentences to the beginning of my short story and made it more obvious it was an older woman. That cleared a lot of their confusion right up. It may be as simple as that.
And it may not be. If I don’t agree with something, I ponder on it and see if the advice really applies to my story. If I keep getting that same advice though, that’s a good red flag that there’s a problem needing fixing.
Get to the core of it. Don’t hear what they’re suggesting, listen to what they’re suggesting. Perhaps they’ve told you:
It would be great if you killed his brother in the beginning because that would be a great motivator for him.
And you want to respond:
I can’t kill his brother. His brother turns out to be the villain later!
But that’s because you’re hearing vs. listening. What the person is really saying is: Your main character doesn’t seem to have enough drive or motivation. The worst thing I could think of, based on what you’ve given me, is to kill his brother. Then he’s seeking revenge—a good motivator.
So instead of killing the brother, because he’s the villain, maybe you kill the girlfriend. Or maybe you don’t kill anyone, you make it so he’s always hated his brother because his mother doted on them more. Or maybe it’s the reverse. The point is you listen for the real problem and come up with your own solution to solve it.
Sometimes you just ignore it. I remember with my short story, I was struggling over a suggestion because the reader said they didn’t believe my main character would behave a certain way. I thought long and hard over it and the story always came to that same behavior. It is what she would have done and it felt right. So I ignored it.
Just as you shouldn’t ignore all feedback, neither should you follow all of it either. Experience will teach you what to ignore and what to apply. And most of the time, I try and come up with my own unique solutions anyway, so that it stays my story in my voice. You should do the same. It’s a delicate balance, but if great writing is your goal, you’ll be honest and figure it out.
I no longer fear the feedback. I embrace it. I look at every feedback session as a chance to make something even better. Part of me still wants to get that email or that vocal feedback that says: “This is perfect!” But the rest of me knows that’s not true.
We should never be satisfied with our stories. Sure, we may get them to a point where we have to let them go and be published, but we should always be striving for something ever better.
Join me Monday for Edit Wars: The Rewrites Strike Back, where we find out what typically happens after a major editing session.
What do you think about feedback? How do you typically respond? Were you afraid to let anyone read your stuff in the beginning? How did that change? Or if you’re still afraid, have you been convinced it’s time to step out and get some feedback? Any other advice on feedback? Let me know in the comments.
For some reason, I’m thinking, more cowbell!