Why is feedback important?
One of the most frequent questions I hear from new writers is what to do once they finish a manuscript, and my answer is always: get feedback. Get someone else’s eyes on that manuscript, because you are too close to it to be able to revise it completely on your own.
After spending days and weeks and months with those characters, you know them inside out—you know what they mean, what they’re thinking, and what they’re trying to accomplish. In fact, you know it so well that to you, it’s obvious—and there’s the very real danger that you haven’t made those things clear to a reader who doesn’t have the advantage of knowing what you know.
All feedback is valuable, even the ugliest review from the meanest blogger or the most off-hand comment from a reader on Amazon, because every reader’s experience of the book can give you insight into how your writing is coming across.
Of course, you have to factor in that readers’ experiences are subjective: every reader brings her own prejudices, preferences, and expectations to the story, and that colors the way she reads the book. But don’t give in to the temptation to use that as an excuse to ignore what those people say, because especially if you notice a pattern of repeated, similar comments on a particular story thread, that’s something you can learn from.
On the other hand, it’s also not healthy to take on board every single piece of criticism that comes your way. Publishing is a business that demands a thick skin. It’s important to remember that a critique of your work is not a critique of you personally. We all feel connected to our work, and that’s good—but try to take enough of a step back from it to be able to hear criticism of your writing without taking it as a personal insult, or you’re going to spend a lot of time upset and angry without getting the benefit of learning from the critiques.
The day we stop improving our craft is the day we should just quit writing. The process begins with your first manuscript and your first critique from a friend or revise and resubmit from an agent or editor, and it continues through publication and book after book with your editor’s revision notes on every manuscript, and the reactions of reviewers to the finished product. There’s always more to learn, and if you can develop your ability to take a critique and learn from it, you’ll never stop learning and improving.
In this class, we’ll be talking in more depth about tactics for reading between the lines and getting the most out of your critiques, and we’ll also discuss what makes a useful critique. Because one of the best ways to improve your craft is to critique someone else’s work. You’ll be amazed by how much that process will teach you about storytelling, pacing, characterization, and style.
How many of you have experience with critiquing, either giving or receiving? What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced when dealing with feedback?