I will admit, I had a tough time with this topic. While I am reluctant to reveal all of my faults online, I think we can all agree, I often struggle with taking feedback.
It is not something I am proud of and I am aware that I need to work on this. But to all of you out there who sit smugly back and declare, “I love feedback! Good or bad, it helps me be a better writer!”, I say, “Good for you! How do you do it?”
This is not to say I only want praise. Shallow I may be, but I’m not that stupid! Over the years I have received lots of great negative feedback from which I have changed and developed. My problem lies not in the feedback itself, but in who is giving me said feedback.
My trusted friends or writers whose work I really adore can bring it to the table. They can tear me up one side and down the other and I appreciate it. Because I know they know what they are talking about and truly want to help me improve.
But, they are not the only ones whose feedback I will snap to attention for; it’s also good to get feedback from people you don’t know who really know the genre you are trying to write. For example, the reader who has every fantasy novel you can think of on their bookshelf is going to give better feedback to my fantasy novel than my Dad who reads only non-fiction political science stuff. Why I didn’t realize this sooner, I will never know!
Now I want to talk about those people I have trouble taking feedback from and I bet you may have met a few along the way.
1) The person who spent the whole time playing on their phone during your turn at the writers group. Don’t even try to give me feedback. I saw you over there playing Candy Crush!
2) The person who starts the feedback with this sentence, “I really hate mysteries and never read them, but here is what I think…” Nope, you are tuned out also. Somehow I just don’t think you can separate your already established prejudice.
3) The person who has already tuned me out. This is the person who comes every time and whenever I read they ask, “So, is this a new story?” No! It’s the same one every week, Bozo! I have no time for you either.
4) The person who wants to change my story instead of give feedback. “How about this instead of the main character being a woman struggling with independence, you make it a man who lives in Russia and instead of her wanting the vote he could be looking for a buried pirate treasure? I think that would work better!” Kinda changes the tone of my Suffragette story, doesn’t it?
5) The person who consistently can’t find one good thing to say about anything and offers no help. Don’t lie! We all know this person. “I didn’t like the character, I found her irritating.” “Your descriptions bogged me down.” “Is there a point to this? It doesn’t seem to go anywhere.” “I can’t get past the grammar errors.” “I was confused after the first sentence.” And on and on! But if you listen or even have the gall to ask how to fix this laundry list of problems, they will shrug or hand you back your work without offering one concrete bit of feedback.
People tend to confuse criticism with feedback. They are not the same.
Feedback in a flowing thing, something in motion. A back and forth and around kind of thing.
Criticism alone is a pounding, heavy handed hammer thing.