Sunday, July 24, 2011

Receiving feedback

I'm really thin-skinned, in case my last few blog posts haven't given me away.  I realize, when my writer's group gives me suggestions or brings things to my attention, they're only trying to help.  All I hear them saying, though, is that I'm terrible and should just give up.  Intellectually, I know I need to listen to feedback and learn from it, and that early drafts suck.  I know writing isn't a magical process where the right words appear in a puff of fairy dust.  Stubbornly, I still cling to the notion that, this time, I'll get it exactly right.

I have a few ways of coping better, though.  The first is that I've learned to take notes on critique.  That way, after I've calmed down and thought about the critique and it's not so fresh on my mind, I can sift through the general impressions the feedback gives me, and make changes based on that overall picture.

The second is to focus on listening, without defending my work.  The words have to stand on their own, and, if they can't, that's a shortcoming that I can fix.  I have to listen for what my writer's group wants to know more about, or the questions they're asking.  If I answer the questions several chapters later, I have to ask myself if the reveal needs to be sooner, or if the suspense will keep people reading.  If there are too many mysteries, and too many of them are mundane, like what my character looks like, I'm going to lose readers' interest.

The third is to think about my own critiques.  I don't always have constructive things to say in my writer's group about people's pieces.  Sometimes I wasn't paying attention, or I read it all wrong.  Sometimes my feedback is spectacularly unhelpful.  I need to remember that my group is only as human as I am.  If a lot of them are confused on the same point, it needs to be changed.  But if one person says one thing, and another corrects her, then I did get my point across, after all.

Most of all, though, I focus on the positive.  People tell me I have a strong voice, that they like the snarky humor I lend my characters, that they think I'm ready to submit for publication.  I have to keep those foremost in my mind.  Despite my flaws, they still enjoy what I write.  Flaws are something I can fix, and they're worth fixing, because I have assets.  The story is salvageable, but only if I listen to my group and take the feedback like a big girl.

Like most things in life, it's a process.  But it is a process I'll face many, many times on this road, and so it's one I consider to be rather important to master.  Hopefully, I'm getting there.

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