Use It or Lose It? Handling Feedback
In a good critique group, writers handle feedback with better results when they “use it or lose it.” These writers adopt the suggestions that make sense for the work and let the rest fall to the wayside.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s discuss the feedback a writer might receive and how to handle it in a critique group.
Feedback for All
In this age of texts and acronyms, writers can get sucked into sloppiness. If you have no real reason to dangle that participle, don’t do it. If you don’t know what a participle (dangling or not) is, take the time to learn it. Avoid reliance on your spell check function to catch spelling errors—those homophones can make a writer look silly or worse, uneducated. Know your breaks from your brakes and try not to lie when you should be laying. If you can’t remember the rules, be willing to correct them if you receive feedback that points out your mistake.
I hear a lot of writers complain that grammar is boring and diagramming sentences in grade school still haunts them. Yet if you are serious about your writing, you’ll hone those skills. Would you respect a brain surgeon who couldn’t tell you the difference between the frontal cortex and the cerebellum?
Some kinds of literary feedback shouldn’t be negotiable. Poor spelling, inconsistencies in grammar, usage or punctuation that don’t seem to have a purpose or other “nits” shouldn’t have a place in the serious writer’s work. Brush up on the areas you feel weak in, and accept gracefully feedback that’s meant to correct grammar, spelling and the like.
Story Arc Feedback
If you write fiction in any form, pay special attention to feedback concerning the “Big Picture,” or the overall story. As you draft and then submit for critique, your story will likely evolve. Be open to others’ ideas, but remember, it’s your story. I once was in a writing group where a member called me on the phone days after I’d presented part of a novel. This writer had very specific ideas about what should happen in my story. It can feel flattering if your story makes a deep impression on those who read it for feedback. But in the end, you are the storyteller. Go ahead and try on ideas if you wish, but don’t try to please everyone.
At one point in my writing journey, I was doing just that—trying to bend the story to please several differing views. A mentor remarked, “You’re like the man who got on his donkey and rode off in all directions.” Ouch! I was guilty as charged. From then on, I stopped assuming others would always have better ideas for my story’s arc. I try ask myself questions such as these:
Does the feedback match my vision for the story?
Does it increase story tension/conflict?
Does the suggestion change the story arc so that a characters’ redemption is more satisfying?
Good, Better, Best
Good writing is good writing, right? Why should it matter what the critique giver’s perspective is? I don’t have all the answers, but it does seem odd to try to revise certain types of stories into literary masterpieces. If your critique group contains members that would never read the type of stories you write, how valuable is the feedback? Always improving one’s writing craft and reading the best work you can find are good ideas, but I’ve seen a large disconnect between what readers enjoy and what writers are willing to tolerate in their colleague’s work.
For instance, a Harlequin Romance doesn’t require and probably shouldn’t demonstrate high literary prose. While a great story is indispensable, readers who tear through book after book don’t seem to care if the writer uses an “ly” word or a silly attribution in dialogue. As long as the writing is clear, these readers are more concerned with satisfying tension/conflict, plenty of action and relatable characters. Readers who gravitate to Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners demand a good story too but are also concerned with lyrical or poetic prose.
Who’s giving your work feedback? A literary writer/reader can be a good feedback source for a genre writer, and vice versa, but I think the writer should take into consideration whether the feedback comes from an avid reader of the genre and someone who doesn’t read the genre at all.
What’s your take on handling feedback?