Dealing with feedback is something we have to master if we dream of becoming a published writer.
It’s inevitable that at some point you have to release your writing into the wild. Which means someone will read your work and possibly leave feedback. And we know anonymous people on the web aren’t always kind.
The more feedback you receive in your writing process, by people giving you constructive criticism, the better you’ll be equipped to handle feedback once it’s published. You’ll be used to hearing about the flaws and can tell the difference between a person who’s being fair and one who’s just a troll.
When to seek feedback
I recently wrote about how I write in layers. It’s very tempting to send my story off to a beta reader after each layer is written. But my friend’s time is valuable, and I can’t take advantage of her like that. And it’s awkward to keep sending revisions before she’s finished reading. Plus, I secretly want to wow her. So it’s better to get my story in the best shape possible before I ask.
That means I’ve done several layers and revisions and copy editing on my own. The amount of time is different for each piece. Basically, I know I’m ready when I read it through and only make minor changes. Or if I feel I’m getting too heavy-handed with chopping. Or if I get too down on it. That’s when I know I’ve lost the ability to be objective and it needs someone else’s eyes on it.
Who to ask for feedback
I am selective about beta readers. I feel very vulnerable handing over a draft, and I want to give it to someone I trust. But more than that, I want someone who will give me advice to make it better. If I give it to someone who’s only feedback is positive, then I haven’t accomplished anything productive.
Pick someone who’s not afraid to point out areas where the story doesn’t work for them. You may need to guide them for the type of feedback you need. Good feedback should point out positives and areas that need improvement.
When to ask a professional for feedback
Professionals cost money, and they’re not cheap. And there are no guarantees that you’ll get published. When you’re not making money from your writing, this can be a hard choice.
In January, I decided it was time and had Nathan Bransford, a former literary agent, critique a short story.
I have a library full of writing books. and though I haven’t read them all, I’ve read a good portion of them. But books will only take you so far. I’ve done MasterClass and other webinars, but I wasn’t getting better as a writer. I needed someone from the book publishing world to give feedback specific to me, so I could learn what my weaknesses are.
To me, this was an investment in my future. I spend lots of money on books, craft supplies, clothes, and other random stuff, why not on something that could get me closer to my dream? Every little bit of progress is a step forward.
Dealing with feedback once you get it
First, acknowledge that there will be things you don’t want to hear. When I got my response back from Nathan, before I’d even read the whole critique, I was ready to throw away my story.
Remind yourself, this isn’t judgment. Think about a sports coach giving feedback to a player. Unless they’re a small kid, they don’t flop on the floor and give up. No, they listen and adjust and become better players.
Focus on the positive. Every critique should list at least one positive. Take the time to read it. I skipped over this part the first time I read Nathan’s critique. Later, I went back and read it, and reread it, and highlighted it. It’s okay to let the good stuff sink in.
Take a break. It’s important to get emotional distance after reading a critique. Don’t dwell on it. Set it aside for a few days. Then when you pick it back up, be sure to focus on the positive before diving back in to edit.
Make the edits. Now, don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to make every edit. But if you’ve hired a professional, I suggest listening to their advice unless you have a strong reason not to.
Get excited. My first thought on the critique was that it was too hard to incorporate the changes. But once I thought about it and how it was going to make my story deeper, I got excited about writing again. I figured out how to fix one area which led to an idea to fix another.
Most importantly, don’t give up. Be that basketball player, who listens to her coach, gets out on that court and does her best regardless of whether or not she’ll become a professional. For the love of writing, finish the game.