A crucial part of editing your writing is gaining feedback from outside readers. And this is often where the thrill of submitting your completed draft for critique meets the agony of receiving feedback. The primary problem of asking for people’s opinions is, of course, that they tend to give them to you. And this feedback can run the gamut from helpful to hurtful. Knowing what feedback to accept and use, and how to weight it’s impact on your story can make all the difference in editing your writing and advancing your work.
I encountered this challenge recently when I shared a short story with a group of new critique peers and editors. After years of revising a novel and working on a second, I’d not shared a new piece of fiction I felt strongly about in nearly a year – and the feeling of trepidation I recalled from my first critiques came rushing back.
I’ve practiced my craft doggedly for years and felt in command of the character’s journey and the story’s core forces. But the feedback I received was muted – not bad, or particularly good, but not quite what I hoped it would be.
Revisiting story critiques was a reminder that processing and nurturing feedback is as important as asking for it in the first place.
Editing your writing after receiving feedback
If you’re about to hit send’ on your story, here are a few things to consider:
1. Group like things. The feedback you receive is sure to be both macro and micro.
2. Don’t decide what feedback to accept or reject upon your first reading. Similar to the draft of your story or novel, consider letting the feedback rest before a second consideration. A single day is often enough. But if you receive comments in the middle of the week, schedule in time Saturday or Sunday to revisit them with more focus. The additional time will also help you process any emotional response – good or bad – the revision process may have caused.
3. Be clear with yourself about what you want from feedback. It’s natural and acceptable to desire praise – but be honest with yourself if that’s the only thing you’re looking for. Because, in most cases, editing your writing means you have to first break it back down into its associated pieces and lay them bare. This can be painful. So do yourself a quick favor – whatever your motivation for getting feedback, jot it down at the top of your draft. Your honesty and clarity will help when you’re ready to dive back into your work.
Macro – High-level story forces such as stakes, motivation or conflict; or POV issues (head hopping, cognitive dissonance).
Micro – Copy edits, word-choice issues, verb tense problems, or inconsistent dialogue tags.
Parse the comments out to help break the revision process down into edits you can execute in single sessions.
4. Look for trends. Trends can help you identify issues or themes that stood out to readers. Consider grouping trends together by issue: Character, Setting, Voice, Plot, POV, Stakes, Motivation, Conflict, etc. Grouping trends will also help you track your progress in second and third drafts if you choose to share them with new readers.
5. Process the emotion by writing down the facts. In many cases, emotions are fictional – not necessarily a reflection of reality. Artists are notorious for letting them blur into fact. If you receive less than adoring feedback, or your manuscript requires more work than you’d hoped, take a moment and write down the facts of your critique feedback. These might take the form of things you either did (you shared your manuscript with an outside reader – yay!) or things you will do (focus on clearer stakes for my second draft, find an affordable copy editor). When you deal in facts, the emotion of the creative process becomes less daunting, which in turn clears your mind to return to the page.
6. Consider the source. Learning to source quality, helpful critiques takes practice. Did you send your piece to writers or editors? If so, do they write the same subject matter, genre or length you do? Or, did you send it to a good friend or colleague who likes to read but doesn’t do it critically? Measure the feedback you receive accordingly as you improve your ability to find critiques that can help improve your work. Keep a list of what went well, what went poorly, and what you’d change from your last round of critique. Then, be sure to reference this list as you’re editing your writing and preparing to submit your next draft.
Have you tried a method or tactic that improved your process of finding critique partners or accepting feedback on your drafts? Let us know!
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