This month, I want to dive into feedback. What is it? Why do we need it? Where do we find it? How do we use it most effectively?
Feedback can be a tricky business for writers. We definitely know we need it, but why?
It may seem simple: because we wrote this thing in isolation and we need someone outside of ourselves to tell us if it’s okay.
Let me stop you right there.
Feedback can be helpful for a variety of reasons. We need feedback to:
- Make sure what we think our story is doing is actually on the page
- Help us identify weak spots in our craft
- Point out problems with any depictions outside our lived experience
- See what we can no longer see because we’ve read the story one hundred times in nearly that many variations
- To grow!
What you don’t want feedback to be is a your only source of validation that you are a writer.
The most important thing to do when seeking out feedback is set your mindset around it first.
If you are looking for gold stars and stamps of approval that you’re a writing genius, you are probably going to be disappointed in your feedback. Maybe you’ll get defensive or angry, blame the reader who gave the feedback, or even deny the feedback altogether and decide to lock down your manuscript as it is.
Let me tell you why that’s not okay.
If you’re asking for feedback, people will give it. They want to be helpful. We’ll talk later this month about what to do with bad feedback from those whose motives aren’t as kind, but most of the people who give you feedback want to be a part of your writing journey. They want to see you succeed.
But that means, they are going to point some stuff out. And some of it might not be what you wanted to hear.
I get it. I want readers to read my work and tell me how spectacular I am, that nothing needs to be changed, and I should send it out immediately and watch the offers roll in. But I know that is not going to help me in the long run. Why? Because I know I’m not a perfect writer.
If you can approach feedback with a growth mindset, feedback can be a wonderfully nourishing thing for your work and your process. If you lock down your manuscript, ignore feedback, convince yourself that you know better, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to be an even stronger writer.
Feedback is scary. You’re inviting someone into your process to read this thing you created from your mind. Remember, you made the work, you are not the work. Criticism of the work is not criticism of you. Criticism of the work is intended to make it stronger. Armed with feedback YOU will do the job of making it better once you know and understand what is and isn’t working in the story. And we need outside eyes to see what that is.
Often, we’ve read our story so many times in so many iterations and know our characters so deeply, that when we read what’s on the page, we are bringing all this internal knowledge to our reading. An outsider doesn’t know all that you do. Your ultimate readers will be outsiders. You need feedback to know whether everything you intended to say is actually on the page (and not just in your head).
We make changes during revision passes and often forget that we deleted something in chapter three that explains something in chapter eight. We need feedback on whether our story is consistent.
We try new things in our writing and often, we need an outside perspective to see if we achieved the intended result.
None of these scenarios imply you are a “bad writer” if you receive feedback on them. Remember: you are separate from the work. The bottom line is that you can’t fix something unless you know what’s broken.
Long story short, we need feedback in order to grow. We need someone to help us see our strengths and weaknesses so we can learn and improve. We need feedback to keep our stories consistent and clear.
Most importantly, we need to be open to feedback. The writers I love working with the most are those that are open to another perspective. They want to try new things, understand what they do well and what they can do better. They want to experiment and make their stories stronger.
That doesn’t mean that feedback won’t hurt sometimes. We’re human after all and creative work comes from our deepest, most vulnerable parts of ourselves. A scene we absolutely loved may not be working for a reader. Or a reader points out the one problem we were afraid of, the one we aren’t sure how to fix. Or maybe a reader just doesn’t like it. All those things can cause a flurry of emotions that are painful and raw. But once our human, emotional reaction settles, I, for one, always see value in the feedback I receive, whether I use it or not (we’ll dig into that later this month, too!).
Let’s do the writerly thing and use a metaphor. Say a plant is your story. You’ve planted the seed and are watching it grow. But the plant may be lilting one day or browning around the edges. The fertilizer you add, water you give, or adjustments to the amount of sunlight you provide are all the feedback you’re applying to the story plant. Some of those things may work, some may not, but you try them all until your plant is thriving again, stretching tall, and even blooming.
This month, we will explore together how to stock our greenhouse with the best, most effective feedback so we can grow as writers and create beautiful, lush gardens of stories.
Featured photo by name_ gravity on Unsplash