The manuscript you’ve been writing your heart out on gets to the feedback stage. How can you decide what to use and what to lose?
Writing Tip for Today: Whether you seek feedback from a pro, your fellow crit groupies or your Aunt Edna the English teacher, here are some tips for deciding which suggestions to use or lose.
Repent at Leisure
The old saying goes, “Write in a white-hot heat, and repent at leisure.” This means that your writing isn’t finished until you’ve revised—usually many times. Your first inclination is to try to perfect your draft so every reader will say it’s already perfect. But writing is rewriting.
Start your revisions by allowing your work to “cool off.” You might work on another project while the draft sits on the back burner. My rule is that I let sit a full-length novel manuscript for at least two weeks, possibly longer. Shorter pieces I may set aside for shorter times, but I try never to submit (for critique or publication) anything the same day I write it.
There’s just something about cooling off that will help nearly every writer achieve objectivity and distance. By becoming more objective, you’re putting yourself closer to what a reader might experience. Remember, you have much more information about what you wrote than the reader. In a way, you’re trying to balance revelation with your assumptions. Ask yourself what info you assume the reader will know and adjust accordingly.
I think it’s a good idea to go from Big Picture to smaller edits. Why fiddle with a sentence if the whole chapter or book has structural flaws? Nate Bransford has a great idea: When a Big Picture flaw is uncovered, follow that fix throughout the draft before attending to the next Big Picture item. Most of us will get feedback about the story itself and it makes sense to follow one flaw throughout the work before moving to the next one.
A knowledgeable critique group or a pro editor can usually spot these Big Picture errors that need attention. But if your fellow writers are newer, they may try to dwell on grammar, usage or other smaller edits. You can craft a perfect sentence or page, but if the larger work isn’t structurally sound, readers won’t buy it.
Study “skeletal” areas of writing such as the classic three-act structure, story arc, story pacing and setting high stakes at least as much as how to punctuate dialogue. Practice writing scenes or anecdotes in a three-dimensional way. The more you understand Big Picture areas, the more you’ll draw in the reader.
The more you understand the Big Picture, the more you’ll draw in readers.
Emoticons of Writing
The first emotions to deal with after you receive feedback are your own. Nobody likes to be told their baby is ugly. If you receive feedback that feels extra harsh or negative, first give yourself a day or two to process your emotions. For me, the feedback that makes me the most upset is usually exactly what I need to do to remedy. Don’t revise when you’re upset.
Next, consider the source. If the feedback is coming from an editor or agent, I take it more seriously than I take my Aunt Edna the English teacher’s advice. Keep in mind the types of writing the feedback giver reads and the level of expertise. As they say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” I find it much easier to take feedback given by someone I respect or admire.
But even pros are subjective, and you may decide the feedback just doesn’t work for you. When you weigh feedback, you the writer know what you intend to accomplish better than anyone. Don’t try to take every piece of feedback to please others. Give your feedback a day or two to lose its sting before you decide to use it or lose it.