Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The 6 Stages of Accepting Feedback by Dianne K. Salerni

I’m currently waiting on an editorial letter for my latest manuscript with equal parts eagerness and dread.

Revision is my favorite part of the writing process, and the edit letters from my HarperCollins editor have been amazing so far. She helped me turn The Eighth Day and The Inquisitor’s Mark into much better books. Based on reviews for The Eighth Day, she also saved me from making a big mistake with one of my characters.

But when I see that email in my In-box I tend to hyperventilate with anxiety. I’m betting I’m not alone in that, right? Whether the feedback is from a critique partner, a trusted beta reader, or critique won in a contest from a blogger/writer you don’t even know, do you reach for a brown paper bag to breathe into while you read?

For me, there are usually six stages of reacting to feedback on my manuscript.

Stage 1: No! She’s wrong! She is absolutely and completely wrong about this!

Stage 2: Crap. She’s right.

Stage 3: But I can’t fix it! Changing this will have a domino effect and make the entire plot unworkable. It cannot be fixed!

Stage 4: Oh, wait. I see how to fix it.

Stage 5: You know, this change is pretty good. I’m liking it.

Stage 6: This is brilliant! Why didn’t I do it this way in the first place?!

I’ve come to accept these stages. I also understand it’s not possible for me to skip the scary and upsetting ones, even though I know the later, more positive stages are coming. The trick is NOT to shoot off an email to the person who gave you the feedback while you are in the throes of Stage 1 or Stage 3!

I’m prone to shooting back an email during Stage 2, although I usually wish I’d waited until Stage 4 so that I can thank the person for the feedback, ask for any clarification needed, and already have a plan in mind for revisions. (I feel foolish when I’ve sent a note to my editor whining complaining explaining that I don’t know how to handle the changes when the next day I’ve got it figured out!)

Over time, I’ve also learned something important about addressing issues raised in a critique or editorial letter. I had trouble putting the idea into words, but luckily, Neil Gaiman did it for me:

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. ~ Neil Gaiman

You have the option of ignoring the feedback you get from critique partners and beta readers. Less so for agents and editors. But you should carefully consider every bit of feedback you get – especially if more than one reader comments on the same thing.  Listen to what they’re saying. Figure out why this element doesn’t work for them, and keep in mind that they can’t always pinpoint the reason themselves. You’re going to have to be the one to figure it out. Address the issue in a way that makes sense for your story. Most of the time, your fix will be better than the one they suggested – and will get you to the glorious Stage 6 faster.

Change happens. As a writer, learn to embrace it. Just keep a brown paper bag handy.





19 comments:

  1. She pretty much nailed it.

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    1. Thanks! That's because I live it. Every. Single. Time.

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  2. Ignoring feedback from a CP is one thing. I don't know what I'd do if I got feedback from an editor I disagreed with. Probably freak out.

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    1. Oh, I did freak out. See Stage 1!

      The one thing I most adamantly disagreed with (taking POV away from a character) was resolved with a compromise. I shifted the character's focus from something the editor didn't think belonged in the story to things that addressed her other concerns. The editor agreed with me that it worked for her after the revisions, and that this character's POV ended up being essential.

      Everything else I disagreed with ... I eventually came to see that she was right. It took time, but I was very, very pleased with the final result.

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    2. I hope to get there some day!

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  3. Stage 7: Why did my editor take me on, knowing how rotten this was to begin with? Am I just some sort of service project? ;)

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    1. LOL! I think for me, that was Stage 2.5.

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  4. That stage 6 is a devil! (But I guess I have to keep reminding myself that writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Too bad for me, because I was a championship sprinter at school, but could barely run a mile!)

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    1. It's especially important for me to remember that during my horrible first drafts, or I would give up halfway through.

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  5. The feedback can sometimes be like a dagger, but once I get over the initial bloodshed and get to work, I feel so tremendously grateful. The end product is so much better. When I first starting working with my editor, she said, "We want to take a great book and make it perfect." I call her the benevolent slave driver. :)

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    1. I'm always so amazed at how much work someone else is willing to put into my writing. The behind-the-scenes commitment and guidance is incredible.

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    2. "We want to take a great book and make it perfect." -- Hilary, I've received similar comments in my edit letters, but while I'm in the throes of the first 3 stages, all I can think is, "She's just trying to be nice. She hates it! Wah!"

      Luckily, I get over it. :D

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  6. Oh yes, this is pretty much my process as well. And I feel like I should be able to skip those first few steps, because I *am* an editor and I know *exactly* how important feedback is. But I still resist it at first before I accept it. In receiving the feedback, the only part where being an editor is actually an advantage is that I *like* solving the mystery of how to use feedback to make my story better.

    But what I can also say--and I don't know if this is true of every editor across the board, but it's true of me--is that, while I'll always provide ideas and possible solutions when it comes to particular problems, there's little I enjoy more than seeing an author resolve a problem in a crafty, creative way I'd never have imagined.

    Harrison Demchick
    Developmental Editor, Ambitious Enterprises

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    1. Harrison, I'm glad to hear that editor/writers go through the same thing! I actually love resolving those issues too. Revision is my favorite step in the process. But I can't get over that initial panic that maybe THIS time, I won't be capable of solving the puzzle.

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  7. This is exactly it. Only I seem to add a step before Stage 1, where I think, "What's this? Who the heck asked them? Oh, that's right... I did."

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    1. Ha, ha! Yes the stage of indignity. What? Someone wants me to change something?!

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  8. These are great tips. I've learned over time to be less stubborn and listen and more boldly revise. And you're right, it almost always turns out better.

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    1. Natalie -- Any time it didn't turn out better was because I listened to the feedback but took a wrong turn trying to accommodate it. When I realize there's a better way, I get back on track.

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  9. Those stages are spot on! I think I have one halfway between 5 and 6 where I start slashing plot pints and killing off characters and it feel like I've dumped a thousand-piece puzzle out of the box and am sitting in the midst of all the pieces. But then they start coming together in a most brilliant way - love that feeling!

    But the early stages send me running for an escape-novel. ;)

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!