I recently had an experience that may be familiar to many of you. It is a moment we both look forward to and dread. When we get feedback and critiques back from contest judges, critique partners, beta readers, etc. I have entered a few contests recently, and while I didn’t place, I did receive feedback and comments from the judges. I have also sent the first few chapters to two friends of mine, both of whom are published authors, and got comments and feedback from them as well. But surely I can’t be the only one who has such mixed feelings about getting feedback on your writing right?
On the one hand, I am beyond grateful that all of these people took the time to read my work and give me thoughtful feedback and advice. I appreciate them making that time and effort. They are certainly under no obligation to do so, and they have done me a huge favor. My writing can only become stronger as a result of letting others read my work, and seeing what they have to say. The rational part of my brain tells me my writing is not perfect no matter how much I want it to be, of course there are going to be weaknesses in my writing, and I need fresh eyes to help me see and fix them. As we all know, writers can get caught up in their own heads, and sometimes what we mean, or think we mean, doesn’t get completely translated onto the page. An outside perspective is crucial. Plus it’s good practice for the future. Publishing is a tough business, and you need a tough skin. After all, if you can’t take constructive criticism from writer friends, how are you going to be able to deal with rejections by agents and/or publishers, and reader emails?
But on the other hand, I am beyond terrified of what they’re going to say. I’m afraid they’re going to say “This is garbage! How the hell do you even have the gall to call yourself a writer? You’re an idiot, and I’m ashamed to know you.” Or if they don’t say it out loud, they’re thinking it and just too polite to tell me. They’re taking pity on me (I MAY have a wee tendency toward the dramatic when it comes to stuff like this). It’s very hard (at least for me) to stay objective because when people point out flaws in my writing, it’s almost like they’re pointing out flaws in ME. In other words, if only I was a good enough writer, I wouldn’t be making the stupid silly mistakes they’re pointing out. I should know better. Of course, in my saner moments, I realize this is ridiculous, but it’s still hard to get yourself out of that headspace.
Getting constructive feedback is definitely not for the faint of heart. I remember my high school English teacher sophomore year (Ms. C) who ripped apart my papers line by line. If there was an awkward phrase, incorrect citation, or bad transition, she was all over it. It was tough, but she really was the teacher who taught me to write, from the ground up. I also had a history Professor my junior year of college, Dr. Mittelstadt, who worked with me to improve my writing. Let me tell you, there is nothing so humbling or ego-crushing as having your professor tell you the ending to your paper was “lackluster.” OUCH! I appreciate both of them for believing in me, and pushing me to be the best writer I could be. I am greatly indebted to both of them.
Also, I have found that if you get too many people’s feedback, it can be very confusing. One person hates the mother, another person loves the mother. One person says storyline needs to be expanded, another says cut it out entirely. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that writing and reading can be very subjective. Everyone has their own tastes, and brings their own experiences and viewpoints when reading your work. It’s hard to balance all that out while making sure your voice isn’t lost in the process. In such cases as these, I usually take the approach of if multiple people zero in on one thing and tell me they feel something isn’t quite right, then it’s definitely something I need to take a look at and fix. But above all, you should trust your own instincts. This is YOUR story and no one can tell it but you. If you deep down in your heart feel that someone’s advice isn’t quite right, no matter how well intentioned, it’s ok to ignore it. In my opinion.
So tell me: How do you deal with feeback and critiques? Do you like getting feedback and critiques, or do you see it more as a necessary evil? Do you devolve into a neurotic mess like me? How do you deal with conflicting advice? Let’s talk down below!