Writing Advice and Feedback #2

It’s feedback time!

The title and topic of this series is Writing Advice and Feedback and I haven’t talked about feedback yet. So, here we go! Today, I’m going to talk about receiving feedback. A later blogpost will talk about giving it.

The best advice about receiving and using feedback is the same as for writing advice, take what works for you and leave the rest!

First, take your time with feedback

Read through your feedback. Let it stew and marinate. Freeze it for a while. Then come back to it a second or a third time. 

Two conflicting trains on what feedback to take

How do you decide what works for you? How do you know you’re implementing the good feedback?

I’ve read and been given two completely conflicting pieces of advice about this. A) The feedback that makes sense and resonates with you is the feedback you should follow. 1.) The feedback that hurts the most and makes you cry and suffer is the feedback you should follow.

I tend to think the people giving advice 1 think they are also giving advice A. But, for me, the feedback that hurts the most often makes the least sense to me. The feedback that hurts the most is usually feedback that shouldn’t have been given to me. (I’ll talk about how you know if you’re giving feedback you should be giving in another post.)

The people who give advice about feedback #1 suggest that it hurts because you know it needs to change and you don’t want to. But I have found that the feedback that resonates and points out something that should change that I should look at usually doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t make me cry or hate writing or feel like I should never write again. 

Epiphany Moments

Giving and Taking Feedback is something I think about a lot. In my career, I have taught classes of 200 people where evaluations by students were required. I would receive 198 positive and glowing reviews. But those 2 reviews that were just nasty – the person who suggested I was teaching drunk (I have never) or the person who suggested I was bribing students for good evals (just, no) – those stuck with me (more than a decade later). Which means negative comments posed as feedback rather than constructive helpful comments stick with me.
I believe it was Brandon Sanderson on the Writing Excuses podcast who said he takes maybe 25% of the feedback his CPs and beta readers give him. Now, I’m no Brandon Sanderson, but I was floored when he said that. I replayed that minute or so multiple times. Because I felt like if someone was reading my work and commented their take, I absolutely had to address it in some way. But I don’t. You don’t. You can look at a piece of feedback and say, “That is more about them than my work” and walk away.
I had a CP going through and making comments about unnecessary redundancies in a novel. Nearly every single one was marked on new stuff I’d put in because of a previous reader not understanding something and I thought I had to address it. I struck nearly all of that new stuff back out. Because one reader not understanding something doesn’t mean my work wasn’t understandable. (This next bit is a real situation about my writing.) If a cis-het-able-bodied white man doesn’t understand how misogyny works? That’s not my problem. I don’t need to make my characters and events more understandable to him. Honestly, once that was pointed out to me, I saw where much of the feedback I received was built around internalized sexism from the reader. Frankly, I had two readers who were so deep in a cis-het-white-able-bodied-NT-man reading of my work that the feedback they gave was completely useless. I wish I’d understood that for the first person and I’m eternally grateful I understood it for the second. PS, neither of those readers were NT. Which means they’d internalized NT thinking about reading. That opens the door to another question I don’t have answers to (Do we have to change our work that is meant to show an ND, or disability, or queer understanding of the world and fit it to a different understanding to be published? I don’t know but I sure hope not.)

If feedback makes you want to quit writing, run away from that reader.

You should not feel terrible about having given someone your work to read (unless you’ve specifically ignored their requests about triggering issues or were egregious in your disregard for them as a reader, but you probably haven’t.)

You should come away from feedback with the attitude of “how can I make this work better? how can I improve my writing going foward?”

If you come away from feedback after letting it rest and simmer and do not see how it makes your work better or leads you to improvement as a writer, disregard it.

If you have the bandwidth, you can push back.

Here’s my last bit advice about deciding what feedback to take. You can push back. 
If you think a reader is giving poor feedback, you can cut them loose. But, you can also tell them that they may need to assess the feedback they are giving. This may help them improve the feedback they give. This can work out for you if you want to keep them on as a reader. Or you may just be helping the next writer they give feedback to.
My example: I gave another writer feedback on their novel and they very politely told me a specific portion of my feedback was bad and my framing needing adjustment. I am so happy they did so! I thought about why I was giving that feedback and corrected a portion of what I think about and consider when giving feedback. They could have just thrown out that feedback and never said anything. And I wouldn’t have learned until later (or never) that I had a bad path in my feedback programming.

tl;dr Be discerning in the feedback you internalize and use.

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