If you want people to read your writing, it is inevitable that people will actually have to read your writing … Stating the obvious, I know, and yet so often we write in isolation, perfecting every comma of a manuscript no one has seen.
And yet the process of seeking feedback, while infinitely valuable, can leave us feeling vulnerable, exposed to our creative core. And while feedback can be gold, working out what to take on board and how, and what is less important (or even misguided) is crucial to delivering a work of creative integrity, a unique expression of its creator.
While feedback can be gold, working out what to take on board and how, and what is less important (or even misguided) is crucial to delivering a work of creative integrity, a unique expression of its creator.
I have been extremely lucky while writing and editing my current WIP to have been encouraged and supported by both gifted writers and avid readers who have been so very generous with their time, kind, patient, insightful, astute, intelligent and sincere.
Keeping in mind my own positive experience, I have been reflecting on what has worked for me during the (quite frankly terrifying but also exciting) experience of opening my WIP up to input from others, and indeed, making the most of feedback offered on any venture or project.
Taking on board creative feedback:
Be open to both positive and negative feedback.
I have a habit (as many of us do) of focusing on what didn’t work so well, to the point of not hearing what people thought was good. What does work is equally valuable so that you know what the strengths are, so that you can bring them out further, and so you know what not to lose and why … especially if conflicting opinions arise. Even neutral feedback can be worth attention to improve your WIP.
Be curious (not defensive).
Even accurate and constructive comments can be crushingly disappointing. Listen carefully and ask questions so that you can better understand the feedback.
Do you know what made you feel that way?
Can you put your finger on why?
Do you have any idea what might work better?
How do you suggest I approach it differently?
Look for underlying issues.
Sometimes feedback doesn’t totally gel because the problem is a symptom of another issue. I find this particularly when I am offered solutions that don’t sit right. (see 2 – if you have fully explored the feedback you will have a better chance of working out what needs to be resolved.)
Especially listen to repeated themes.
One person might be wrong, but if you hear something similar from multiple people, that is a strong sign you need to pay close attention. Be open to the different ways this feedback may manifest in variations on the theme.
Let advice percolate.
The tendency is often to rush in excitedly to fix things. All good for a straight-forward fix.
But for more major changes, think them over, sleep on the suggestions (more than once if needed) and re-visit the feedback. Let your subconscious do some of the work. If still unsure, ask more questions to further clarify or run past other reviewers what they think.
Having the gift of another’s perspective to help guide you is incredibly precious. (For more on excitement as a strategy in writing see my post “Is excitement a new strategy for writers?”
Give it a go.
Even if you aren’t sure, test it out. For example, for writing:
- Copy and paste a chapter into a new document and have a play – liberally delete, add to or switch around.
- Print that section, mark up the problem areas and scrawl over it with your ideas.
- Pick up a pen and scribble out a new version for fun.
No harm done if it was better before, you can go back to your earlier version more confident that you have explored other options. But you may be blown away by what you discover.
Seek further feedback on changes.
The pendulum can swing too far the other way. Or maybe one change creates or exposes another problem. Or maybe you didn’t quite nail it.
Log all feedback.
As your WIP evolves, it can be useful to revisit feedback on earlier versions to see if on reconsideration and after further gestation, you come up with additional ideas.
Also keep old versions of your WIP in case you change your mind and want to reinstate something or even just revisit to remind yourself. An accomplished writer friend, Louise Allan , suggests keeping deleted scenes in case you decide to repurpose them into another body of work – what a great idea!
Identify when to dismiss feedback.
The ideas above are geared towards working with feedback from people who have valuable insights. Sometimes you will decide well-intended feedback doesn’t gel and that’s okay. It is your creative work, not theirs.
If feedback (invited or otherwise) is destructive, it can be excruciating, especially if from someone you care(d) about or trust(ed).
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT DESTROY YOUR WORK. And DO NOT let negative feedback destroy you.
You will still need to deal with your own reaction to the feedback and may still find some of these tips helpful in gleaning something useful from what they have said, or in evaluating their feedback to determine that it is not helpful.
And it is all the more important to be open to the feedback of those who can offer valuable input, as this will give you perspective when faced with those who shoot down your creative development.
Without exploring the logistics of who to ask for feedback, when or how, these are some of my reflections on strategies that have helped me to handle feedback.
Do you think any of these tips are (or might be) helpful?
Do you have any other useful tips that you’d like to share?
Please feel free to comment below.
With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.
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© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith