We’re in the dog days of summer here in the U.S., so this is a great time for me to update one of my older posts. Actually, there’s never a bad time to talk about beta reading and critiquing. *smile*
If we want to improve our work, we first need to have beta readers, critique partners, and/or editors provide feedback. Second, we have to evaluate our writing based on that feedback.
Maybe we’ll slap our forehead and say “duh” to their comments. Maybe we’ll ignore their suggestion and instead just tweak our writing to fix a confusing plot point or character motivation. Maybe we’ll decide their misunderstanding is exactly what we wanted and not change a thing.
Regardless, unless feedback is deliberately mean and destructive, it’s always a pointer that something is less than ideal for that reader. And that can be crazy-making unless we make that feedback work for us. Let’s take a look.
Embrace Our Imperfection—It’s the Only Way to Improve
Are you *gasp* less than perfect? Hey, it happens. I know I’m not the only one.
No matter what aspect of our life we’re talking about, whether we’re searching for parenting advice or kicking our writing up a notch, we can read, experiment, and observe to learn new techniques and improve our skills. But sometimes we need an outside force to provide an epiphany into our strengths and weaknesses. And those weaknesses? Those are the easiest areas to improve.
That outside force could be just about anything, but it often comes in the guise of other people: friends or family with insight into which aspects of our life need work. It can be all too easy to feel defensive and ignore the evidence of our imperfection, but a far better thing is to embrace the criticism and make it work for us.
Every Writer Receives Feedback
In the writing world, there’s a seemingly never-ending line of people ready to critique our work. For us perfectionists, even our own brains often think our work is crap.
Next come the beta readers who tell us about all the boring parts they skipped. Then come our critique partners/groups to rip our work apart. Line. By. Line. With contests or freelance editors, we might even pay someone to tell us all the ways we’re doing it wrong.
If we’re lucky, we’ll get an agent, who loves our work—except for these 20,000 words we have to change. And if we’re miraculously lucky, an editor at a publisher wants to pay us for our work—as long as we’re willing to change these other 10,000 words.
5 1/2 Steps for Tackling Feedback
- Step One: Breathe. I’m serious. Sometimes criticism can feel like a punch to the gut. Instead of reacting while we’re figuratively doubled-over, take several deep breaths.
- Step One-and-a-Half: Count. Count to 10, or 100, or better yet, sleep on it before reacting.
- Step Two: Triage. There are bound to be some aspects of the criticism that make sense to us, others that we highly doubt, and some that we know are flat-out wrong. Divide and conquer.
- Step Three: Attack the Easy Stuff. Work on improving those aspects we agree with.
- Step Four: Analyze the Harder Stuff. Look for some kernel of helpful information in those aspects we disagree with and work on that.
- Step Five: Repeat Step Four. Yep, even those things we know are flat-out wrong might have a useful tidbit to help us improve. Analyze the feedback to figure out what caused them to come to that erroneous conclusion. Maybe we can tweak the writing to prevent that cause. We won’t know unless we try.
How We Handle Feedback Will Either Make Us or Break Us
All that criticism will either tear us apart or make us stronger. Our choice. If we accept that we’re not perfect, that means we have weaknesses.
Maybe the criticism of our work that feels completely wrong can still point us toward those weaknesses. Fine, we don’t agree with their take on what’s wrong or like their suggestion on how to fix it. That doesn’t change the fact that something about that section felt “off” to them. S0 we fix it—our way.
We can try to figure out why they came to that out-of-left-field conclusion. Then we see if we can tweak our writing to prevent that reaction in others.
I talked about this in my post with tips on MS Word comments—how a single word choice on one page led to confusion a page later. Yes, really. Those are the sorts of tweaks we can almost always make to address the “flag” of feedback, even when we don’t agree with it.
Note that there are some who give mean and destructive feedback on purpose. Luckily those trolls are few and far between. That’s not the kind of feedback we’re speaking of here. Instead, we’re talking about taking earnest feedback that doesn’t seem to apply to our work and trying to find the nugget of insight that can help our story.
If we can make criticism work for us and strengthen all the elements of writing, our entire story will hold strong. Only then will our readers see the wonderful ending we have planned down the road. *smile*
What type of criticism is hardest for you to take? How do you get to a point of being able to work with difficult feedback? Are you able to turn even the worst (non-troll) feedback into something useful? Have you had to deal with destructive feedback?Pin It