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
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.