Creating Action out of Feedback

One of the most exciting and harrowing times in an author’s life is the moment when they receive feedback, either from an editor or from their writing group. For me, this moment sparks a conflict between excitement and anxiety. Questions swirl in my head and my palms sweat. What if they hated it? What if it is garbage?

example-feedbackLet me answer those two questions for you, right now, before you go off to get your feedback. They didn’t hate it and it isn’t garbage. The only bad writing is a blank page. The words may not be perfect, they may need work before they are ready for a larger audience, but they are your words and that makes them beautiful.

Okay, so now that we have that out of the way, let’s chat about what to do with the feedback once you get it.

First, ask questions:

  • Read through (or listen) to the feedback. If it helps, pretend that you are working on a friends piece, not your own.
  • Do whatever it takes to accept the feedback with an open mind (see my post, Four Ways to Seek Out Meaningful Feedback on Your Manuscript, if you don’t feel like you can do this. If you don’t feel like you can approach a member’s feedback with an open mind, you might be in the wrong group).
  • example-feedback-2As you read or listen, ask questions. If feedback is vague, try to get more specifics from your critics. If you aren’t sure what they are getting at, ask! Ask them about the things that were in your mind before you gave it to them (IE: did this section work? I was worried about this, what do you think?). I often hold off on making my own worries or instincts known until after everyone has read my piece, that way their initial read through isn’t clouded by my own insecurities.
  • Take copious amounts of notes. If the meeting is in person, or over audio link, consider recording it (as long as everyone in your group is okay with that).

Next, reread, reflect, and respond:

  • Reread your notes. Transcribe anything you missed. Spend some time making sure the feedback is complete.
  • Reflect on the feedback. What are your initial reactions? How do you feel about what was said? Does the feedback match your own instincts about what the piece needs? What kinds of things would you need to do to follow the feedback? What resources might you need? Does the feedback fit in with your vision for the piece? I like to add in a few freewrites to help me engage with the feedback.
  • Respond. Send follow-up emails or engage in a follow-up conversation with your critic. Ask any questions that came to mind or bounce ideas off of them. Make sure you are 100% clear on the meaning of their feedback.

Finally, make a revision plan and get to work:

  • Startup Stock PhotosConsider the source of the feedback as you are deciding on what changes to implement. Consider who the person is, what their qualifications are, how honest they would be with you (always aim for gentle but complete honesty when seeking out critique partners), what genre they write/read, etc.
  • Research anything you are unsure of and seek out expert information to coincide with the feedback you were given.
  • If possible, get a second, third, forth…opinion. Get as many eyes and sets of feedback as possible.
  • Play with the feedback and suggestions. Try to fix problems in a couple of different ways in order to see what works.

A couple of things to keep in mind as you start down the revision road:

  • Always, ALWAYS keep an unaltered version of your work.
  • Not every piece of feedback is actionable or right. Consider everything carefully and trust your own instincts.
  • Enjoy the process! Nothing is more exciting that watching your prose transform.

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