Don’t reject feedback rashly

December 6, 2013

I don’t like to get feedback in real time. Not because I can’t take it, but because my response is often far different after I’ve had time to absorb it.

I was reminded of this as I went over the notes from my editor’s feedback on my latest draft. I got feedback from him on the same draft three times – initial feedback a few weeks back, more detailed scene-by-scene feedback, and then some extra feedback on an outline I presented to him this week.

What a difference time makes! Some of the suggestions he made during the initial round of feedback, suggestions I was heavily leaning towards rejecting, I’ve now come to realize are absolutely essential changes that I must make. Others I have stood firm on, but honestly, not too many. Is he that good, or am I being too trusting? I don’t know, but here’s the lesson I draw from this:

When you get feedback, stop. Stop. Accept it all, jot down notes, ask for clarification where necessary, and then do nothing. Your first instinct will be to defend your work, to come to the defense of the elements you love so much. Don’t. Let it sit in the back of your mind until you have the necessary distance to approach it with as much objectivity as you’ll ever be able to muster. Then you may realize that some of the elements you love so much actually are hurting the story you love even more.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

11 Comments

  1. Reply

    Nayrael

    IMO, feedback (especially critical) is of vital importance for a writer. While I only write for FictionPress and FanFiction right now, I don’t dare start a serious story until I find whom I like to call “Alpha Reader” who will read my chapters before I publish them and give me critical feedback which I then analyze, decide what to do with it (I usually accept it) or, if needed, discuss the issue with him.

    It can be tough to receive negative opinion about what you worked hard to write, but like how I like to say: positive feedback motivates you to write but negative feedback makes you a better writer. And I was very proud when I realized that it was a long time since I had received negative feedback from my Alpha Reader.

    1. Reply

      Stilts

      I actually think I would get edgy if I got too much positive feedback on early drafts! That’s when I’d immediately send it out to other readers to get more feedback, for fear that both my editor and I are missing something crucial.

      Positive feedback is nice, but I’ll keep going without it. It’s the negative I want, because the pain makes me (and my work) stronger.

    2. Reply

      Znail

      There is a reason why so many famous writers thank their spouses in the opening of books. You need a sounding board for your work as a writer as it’s far too easy to make the same mistake again and again just by habit, no matter how many times you try and check your own work.

      1. Reply

        Stilts

        And for those of us without spouses / sufficiently interested significant others, we just have to find someone else to fill in. Without the hanky panky though, sadly. Perhaps sadly, depending.

  2. Reply

    thedarktower

    sure, feedback is important. sometimes (more likely most of the times), when we get feedback, we go into defensive. and yeah, it’s hard for us to change what we did (especially if we are talking about writers).
    so accepting feedback isn’t easy. no matter how open you can be.
    you’ve said it right – we shouldn’t judge it immediately. even if it’s something we are willing to accept ASAP. we should digest it. let it sit in the back of our mind.
    however I think it’s important to remain in control. you know how’s that when you hear a song for the first and you say “MEH, not really something”, you might even say it’s corrupt. but after hearing it for a few times if it’s in commercial or in the radio..or just in a youtube video, you might start like it.
    what I am saying is that, letting a feedback stay in our mind is good. but we should also be in control for not getting the opposite effect like the song. sometimes the song might be really great or even addictive after hearing sometimes. but when it’s comes to writing?we should be extra careful.

    so, feedback is sure important. we shouldn’t jump into conclusions. but we should have some self confident about what and how we did (write in your case. I guess?) and not to be affected of every “viral youtube video/song” that might affect us in a bad way.

    1. Reply

      Stilts

      Very true. I always tell my editor – my Alpha Reader, as Nayrael put it – that if I disagree with a suggestion he makes, I won’t take it. That’s the glory publishing outside of the big publishing houses – my editors don’t have any power over me save for what I give them, so if I believe in my heart that something is the right way to go, I can do it. I might end up being wrong, but at least it’s my mistake to make.

      So far though, I’ve found that I seldom had to invoke that. Like I said, whether that’s because he’s that good or I’m too trusting I don’t know yet, but I’m hoping for the former!

      1. Reply

        thedarktower

        interesting.

        an unrelated (or related?) question that cross through my mind – let’s say you’ve already accepted with a feedback. what do you do with it?
        I mean..a feedback can tell you that something went wrong with you did, it might be specific and even suggest alternatives (THO if I were to get a feedback in writing I wouldn’t want that, and I guess experienced alpha-readers don’t try a change of heart or suggest something ’cause it would negate the whole point that this is a creation belong to its writer. it’s something a good alpha-reader must have. but that was just a side note).
        what I am trying to say here is that when you’ve already realized that a feedback should really get your attention, you also need to take into the next level and it’s like – “what now?what will be my next step?”. in other words, accepting a feedback doesn’t end with the “accepting” part of it.

        1. Nayrael

          Can’t talk for Stilts, but I think the following rule goes for all writers: look at the issue from the angle the Editor saw it and find your solution. The Editor can’t possibly know how a certain change might influence the parts of the story that have yet to be written so very often his help is limited to pointing out a problem, not solving it.

          Personally, I re-check the issue, think of how to solve it for a while (I tend to ignore most of suggestions if I get them: if he is right, I will come up with it as well) and once I decided I change it… or change something else (if he complains about X because it causes problems with Y, then maybe Y needs a change and not X).

          And then I re-check rest of the text. If I had one major issue maybe I have more and the Alpha Reader just did not notice them or was not aware that they were issues in the first place (and noticing those too late can cause some very, very big problems).
          Additionally, I suggest to treat EVERYTHING as an issue while checking what you wrote. That helps a bit with negating your own bias.

        2. Stilts

          Sort of what Nayrael said. Most of the time my editor doesn’t offer a solution, because he can’t possibly know what I’ve got in mind for later on, and he’s also not as good of a writer as me (otherwise I would be editing his stuff!). He merely points out the problem as he sees it, explains why it’s a problem, and then I try to figure out a solution. Then I usually run the solution past him to see if it sounds like it’ll work. Once I get the go ahead on something that sounds like a good idea (though execution always matters), I commence with the rewrites.

  3. Reply

    Izaak

    Question Stilts: how long are your writing sessions?

    I’ve managed to write several notebooks worth of material, but the biggest problem I would have is WHERE I’m writing them. I can never get enough time for myself; either I lose any validation of me BEING in a restaurant, or I lose steam midway and lose momentum. How do you manage to write consecutively? Is it one long session, or several small sessions throughout the day?

    1. Reply

      Stilts

      I have trouble writing in small sessions because I’ve found that starting is always the hardest thing to do. Even with something I enjoy like writing, when it’s still work it’s hard to force myself to do it (instead of watching TV or drinking beer or doing nothing at all), so once I get going, I just go. My best writing has come about when I had an entire day to devote to it, though I’ve also had a lot of success when I get back to work, get a quick meal and then start writing.

      To me, it’s important to set aside a place in your house or apartment specifically for writing. I actually have two desks, one for games, web surfing, and blogging, and another devoted entirely to my fiction. This is like the restaurant for me – if I’m there, I’m in writing mode, and there’s no reason I ever need to leave it other than food or sleep. You have to be able to write independently of what the world around you is doing though, at least if you want to be serious about it.

      P.S. Like I said, the hardest thing is starting, so focus on that. Don’t tell yourself “I have to write 3,000 words today!”, tell yourself “I’m going to sit down for five minutes and just get started.” Once you’re going, if you have the time you’ll probably keep going. And when you lose momentum and peter out? Your goal was to get started, and you did that, so you won. Just do that every day and you’ll get there in time.

      Hope this helps!

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