Today’s blog post is the first of a three-part series about how we, as writers, receive feedback and how to avoid becoming overwhelmed with input (good or bad) and how to not fall prey to the “paralysis of feedback” that can happen when we receive criticism.

Before I start the actual content of this three-part series, let me make a quick announcement here:

 The next Florida Wild Writers one-day writing retreat will be held on May 28th, 2015. The location will be the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton. The retreat lasts from 10 am to 3:30 pm. This will be the last Wild Writers retreat until September. Check out www.FloridaWildWriters.com for more information.  

 

Now, on to today’s topic.

Overwhelmed by Feedback

Occasionally, I find myself in a difficult position: I will receive feedback on a story which fundamentally alters the way I perceive the story itself, and that alteration of perspective leads to a radical revision of the piece.

Dramatic revision is always a scary proposition. First, it can leave me feeling as if I’m a terrible writer. Why didn’t I see all of the things my beta-readers saw? How is it someone else saw the golden nugget of this narrative so much more clearly than I did? Or, how is it I tried so hard to tell the story I imagined, and yet failed so dramatically in my attempt to transfer that story onto the page?

It can be enough to make me want to give up, at least on that particular piece of writing.

But, even after I’ve talked myself down from the ledge of the creative skyscraper and reminded myself that the creative process isn’t always a clear, flat path from start to finish, I still have to wrestle with the next phase of acceptance of radical revision: The daunting task of dismantling and reconstructing the story.

Sometimes receiving critical feedback about our artistic work results in a feeling of an insurmountable challenge—a mountain too tall to climb.
Sometimes receiving critical feedback about our artistic work results in a feeling of an insurmountable challenge—a mountain too tall to climb.

Revision can feel like starting over. Maybe I have to ditch the first ten pages, or move large blocks of the story around. Maybe two characters have to be combined into one, or one favorite character just doesn’t belong in the story after all. Or maybe, once I really understand the deeper themes of the story, I have to re-write, from page one, every scene in order to adequately focus the reader’s eye on that theme.

It can seem too steep of a hill to climb. I will admit, there are a few hundred pages in my filing cabinet which have not passed into serious revision because I took stock of the story and decided the amount of effort necessary to make it work was not justified by the story’s potential. This is always a sad conclusion. It is hard to give up on that potential I first saw in the germ of a story.

The Importance of Feedback

Of course, I can’t allow that potential downside of feedback (the revelation that a particular piece just isn’t good enough for my attention) to keep me from seeking feedback. Quality feedback is much too valuable to dismiss entirely. What are the benefits of quality feedback? Here’s a quick review:

  1. Quality feedback allows you, the writer, to see what the reader sees and how their experience of the text differs from what you intended or hoped for. Understanding this discrepancy is a key component to revising our work in the most powerful way.
  2. Feedback helps identify our weaknesses as writers, especially when certain patterns emerge, over time. By identifying our weaknesses, we are also identifying areas for concentrated study and intentional improvement. If we know where we are weak, we can devise a plan to become stronger.
  3. Similarly, good feedback helps us identify our strengths so that we can self-celebrate those moments where our work has accomplished something that transcends ourselves. Knowing where we are succeeding can help us maintain forward momentum.
  4. Feedback provides us with concrete entry points for revision. These are specific action points, not just a vague notion that the story “isn’t ready” or “could be better.” Nothing is more frustrating than to recognize a story needs “something” but to not know what that needed something is.
  5. The best feedback suggests methods of improvement without being prescriptive. It offers ideas without mandating specific changes. It opens new windows into our work and leaves room for our own unique creativity.
  6. And, finally, feedback focuses on the content of the story—and how to amplify that—without being personal. It allows me the opportunity to take my writing to the next level.

In the next blog post, I’ll focus on how to receive feedback and work toward methods of avoiding “feedback overload.”

Until then, happy writing.

Overwhelmed by Feedback, Part One