On Receiving Feedback


Blogging when emotional is rarely a good thing, which is why I forced myself to hold onto this post for a week before publishing.

Why so passionate?

Well, I recently received some feedback to the latest draft of To Retreat from Romance—my young adult unromance novel.

I have a strange relationship to feedback. Like all artists, I want it to be positive; but when it is, I invariably tell myself, “that person is just being nice.”  Of course, when it’s negative, my reactions are more complicated. When the negative feedback comes, my mind runs a gamut of fallacies about why the criticism is wrong. “they don’t get it”; “they missed the point”; “they are contradicting themselves” etc. Then, of course, there’s the inevitable downward spiral of self-loathing and doubt and so on and so forth. Following this is the bounceback where I want to edit my work so that the one specific person who criticized it likes it, even if it’s to the detriment of the work itself and the rest of the feedback I’ve received. Oh, I go round and round; like I said, it’s complicated.

I’ve always done this, and I find I’m still doing it.  Fortunately, the cycle runs its course quickly now—in a matter of hours rather than days—and I can step back and engage the criticism well.

I avoid the spiral by returning to the core question that drives requesting feedback in the first place: “How can I improve the work?”

If you are looking for honest feedback—and I mean really looking for help, not fishing for compliments—then you’ve been asking this question from the beginning. Your goal in handing someone your art was to get observations about what needs improvement. You were not looking for resounding praise. That doesn’t come until after publication, and it almost always comes with an accompanying mountain of criticism. With feedback, the goal is to obtain insight from whomever has taken their valuable time to read your work in to make it better.  So if someone provides any observations or recommendations that improve your work in any way, he/she has given valuable feedback, no matter how much it may sting.

And it will sting. Any writer who hasn’t had his or her heart ripped out probably hasn’t been in the game long or isn’t working with honest people. It’s good to receive constructive criticism; it’s valuable to hear what is not working and why. Folks who value you, your efforts, and your art will provide you with comments that are not only useful but often charitably worded. Then there’s other folks who won’t.

Apply the core question to both groups. And keep moving forward.

Thanks for reading, now get to writing,