Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make #4: Resisting Feedback

Do you resist feedback.  Are ya sure?  Come on, now… Let’s be honest with ourselves, shall we?

At a recent NJ Author’s talk on “Getting Published” the authors (Listed and linked below) discussed the biggest mistakes they think new writers make.

 ***Don’t be resistant to feedback***

Danielle Ackley McPhail (Author of the Literary Handyman, and Editor of Bad Ass Fairies) commented during this discussion (see the other posts if you are just tuning in) that “you can’t be resistant to feedback”.  She said if you resist what editors say, and you seem resistant in general, they might not come back to you.  She said to recognize your role in the relationship.  If you won’t budge, then you won’t move forward. (And we all want that second book deal, right?)

For those of you who are not lucky enough to have publishers or editors yet, the same can be said about your beta readers.  If you have them listen to them.  You might not always agree, but if more than one person thinks something is weak, and you think it’s great, you need to consider that you might be looking at your work with blind eyes.  Take a deep breath, and LISTEN.  Be open minded.  Put your guard down, and you just might be surprised by what happens.

Jonathan Maberry:  www.Jonathanmaberry.com

Mike McPhail:  www.mcp-concepts.com

Danielle Ackley-McPhail:  www.sidhenadaire.com

Jon Gibbs:  www.acatofninetales.com

Jennifer R. Hubbard:  www.jenniferhubbard.com

Kristin Battestella:  www.jsnouff.com/kristin

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33 responses to “Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make #4: Resisting Feedback

  1. Thanks, Jennifer. I’m struggling with this issue as we speak. I am established in the songwriting world and am used to being my own judge and juror, but novel writing is a whole ‘nother business. 🙂 I’ll keep an open mind.

  2. Such a simple piece of advice, and so interesting to hear you all talk about it. As toe is yet to even touch water yet, you can imagine the trepidation I would feel once I were to put a manuscript out there, if not for discussions such as these. Can I lurk a while?

  3. I love this discussion!
    As a new writer, my tendency is to take any criticism to heart, and ‘fix’ my writing accordingly. I know this is not always the best course however. What has helped me with this is to get several critiques of the same piece and notice that some readers will love the exact same part others find objectionable.
    If anything, getting feedback helps me to reinforce my convictions and my vision for the story, while leaving the option to change it open.
    I do concede that, if an editor were paying me to write the story, I would be considerably more amenable to making changes. 😉

  4. Have I resisted feedback? Not sure. Sometimes I got angry by it. Sometimes I didn’t think the feedback applied. Sometimes I wanted to test my instincts and see if the feedback was right or wrong (usually turned out right), but resist it? I don’t think so. Balked, but not resist. I actually crave feedback as long as it’s substantive. I dislike the generic comments like “I didn’t like this” equally as much as I dislike “I thought this was great.” Really? What don’t you like? What do you like? Give me specifics so I know what to fix and what to do again.

  5. Of course we can resist feedback!

    We can yell and scream at it. We can pout, cry, rage, wimper at it.

    But sooner or later, if we’re serious about this crazy profession we’ve chosen we have to get back to work, analyse it, and decide what to do about it.

  6. I love good feedback! When I say “good” I mean substantive. I take it as the highest compliment. Although, I haven’t always had that reaction …

  7. very good feedback, Jennifer. thx for the reminder.

  8. It just depends on the advice…I had a beta reader get upset about one of my characters in a far off sci-fi being Asian. Apparently Asians are supposed to disappear with time. I felt very annoyed having to point out there are more Asians then their are Caucasians in the world.

    • Hmm…if anything it’s the fact that intermingling of the races would homoginize things so that there were no discernable pure races…but that is neither here nor there.

      Not really a constructive critique in regard to your work because in fiction we must balance realism with the need to present the reader with something they can relate to, grasp, and understand. Unless your storyline is specifically about the homoginization of the human race the character’s ethnicity is not particularly relevant.

      This is a very good example of weighing the value of a particular critique comment. And, though I haven’t read the piece in question to know if this is relevant, it is possible to have a cultural identity without having the physical characteristic of a particular ethnicity.

      Anyway…apparently I could go on and on. I should maybe go do some critiquing myself instead of procrastinating! LOL

      Good writing!

      Danielle
      http://www.sidhenadaire.com
      http://lit_handyman.livejournal.com

    • That’s just… bizarre.

  9. I love to listen to anyone who’s willing to read my work & comment on it:-) WOuld’ve never gotten that publishing contract otherwise . . . the trick is to surround yourself w/ people smarter than you & learn from them!

  10. Totally agree. While it stings sometimes — it’s best to wince and listen going forward, until becoming open to what editors have to say.

  11. I swing the other way. I consider all feedback seriously and include all their suggestions, for better or worse, in my next rewrite.

    There must be a happy medium, but I have yet to find it. 🙂

    Recommendations? Anyone?

    • I would be careful about accepting recommendations across the board. You have to consider what they are saying and be sure they are on the mark. After all, sometimes people just don’t get it even when you have done your part perfectly.

  12. Thanks for sharing, Jenn. Glad the talk was of use.

    Best,

    Danielle
    http://www.sidhenadaire.com
    http://lit_handyman.livejournal.com

  13. One thing that’s really helped my ability to accept feedback is that I’ve been editing and revising my current work in progress for upwards of six years. Because I wrote it so long ago, it’s actually a lot easier to take a machete to it when necessary, because my emotional attachment has faded over time. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my book, but I’m more detached now so I my main objection to suggested revisions is no longer “But I love that part!”, it’s now “But I don’t want to change stuff *again*…”

  14. Sometimes I am resistant, but on the whole your advice is good–especially when it is an editor who is willing to pay you. But do not change stuff if it does not feel right. “Killing your babies” is not always the right method –just change their diapers.

  15. Ravena Guron

    Personally, I don’t believe anything I write on my own is good. Consequently, when I get criticism, I get oddly happy, because I think yay! stuff to make me better! Strange, I know, but there is something extremely satisfying about getting criticism and knowing exactly how to handle it.

    For example, I have three amazing beta readers. I’ve sent two of them my work, they’ve given me some suggestions and I’ve rewritten. I send to Jennifer, who then comes bulldozing in and gives me about three amazing pages of criticism that those other two didn’t mention at all. I can take that and work on my stuff, and at the end of it I’ll feel so much better because I’ll know that my piece is getting a little stronger each time.

    Feedback rocks, because without it you might as well just burn your baby now, and save yourself the trouble of trying to get it published without acknowledging anyone else’s opinions. No one is trying to hurt you when they give you feedback, they are trying to help you get better.

    • Now, don’t put down your own work. It isn’t whether or not it is any good that makes critiques a vital point of the process, it’s the fact that as authors we are too close to our own work to catch all the oopses or gaps because our mind automatically supplies the details we thought we put in. An outside opinion points out where we need to clarify things for the reader.

      But you are right, feedback does rock and there is nothing like the rush of knowing that someone has read your work and helped you polish it even brighter.

      Good writing,

      Danielle
      http://www.sidhenadaire.com
      http://lit_handyman.livejournal.com

    • Ha! I come through like a bulldozer.

      Oh, well. I’ve been called worse. I do try to read hyper-critically so I can find EVERYTHING that I think could potentially be a problem. It’s what I want from my betas, and I expect no less from them.

      But I also try to sing praises when I see something great. Everything has potential. The difference between most writers is the “place” they are in their journey. Most stories are awesome. We all just need a little help to “get us there”

      And as Danielle said in a comment here… all authors need help seeing things they miss themselves because our brains “fill in the blanks” since we know what’s happening.

      • Jennifer really hit the key here. Critiquing isn’t so much about pointing out what’s wrong as it is about pointing out the potential problems.

        Think about it this way. In all writing there are three things at play:

        1) What the author intended to say – this is firm in the author’s head and since they understand what needs to be said they don’t always catch when something’s been left out.

        2) What the author put on the page – due to ommission or poor word choice what we say isn’t always what we intended to say.

        3) What the reader understood – No matter how well you chose your words or how detailed you were, the reader is going to bring their own perceptions and understandings to whatever you wrote. This could give a completely different meaning to your story, or it could make it fall apart through absolutely no fault of your own. This is why beta readers and critiquing are important. While they can’t reveal every potential miscommunication between author, story, and reader, they can help pinpoint the most likely ones.

        And yet, no matter how much effort we put into it, someone will always misunderstand. This is precisely why at a certain point authors have to say “Done is done” and let things go as-is.

  16. Being a relatively new writer myself, I can so relate to this. When I first started writing it was as if every word that I put on paper contained my very essence and any criticism felt like a knife in my heart. I tried to take it in the spirit it was meant, which was clearly helpful, but it was hardly easy. I was so lacking in confidence at the start that every negative comment made me question if I had any writing talent at all. It just hurt me deeply.

    But now, even though criticism still has a bit of a sting to it, I’ve got much tougher skin. I’ve had enough encouragement and accolades by now to understand that even really great writers put crap on the page to begin with and my crappy pages do NOT mean I don’t have talent; just like theirs don’t. I’ve come to see the writing process differently than I did at the start. You’re not just building a skyscraper from the bottom up and selling it once you finish the top. You’re building a classical monument from the ground up, and when you get to the top you have a big block of marble. It’s bigger than it needs to be and isn’t going to win any awards. It’s just a big block of marble. Then, you take out your hammer and chisel and you start chipping away at all the things that don’t need to be there. Evntually, you’ll have removed everything you don’t need and you’ll have a glorious work of art that will last for the ages – or at least long enough to let you eat for a few months.

    But criticism is a master craftsman looking over your shoulder and kindly suggesting that maybe you don’t need that marble F-16 dangling in front of the collonade. The best thing any new writer can do is to train themselves in a hurry to be grateful, even hungry, for good, quality criticism. There are lots of great books out there on how to become a good writer and I suggest reading as many as you can, but direct criticism is by far the most directly useful tool for becoming more skilled in your craft that exists anywhere. Take a deep breath, suck it up, and embrace it. Learn to love it, and it will love you back.

    • Tristan, you write from inside my head. I could not have said it better myself. Spot on. 🙂

    • Good points, Tristan.

      I would add to that for those who are critiquing the work of others don’t just focus on the negative and don’t be harsh when pointing out areas that need work. Critiquing should be supportive, not negative.

      And for those receiving critiques any feedback you receive is opinion (unless it is grammar related) so don’t feel you HAVE to incorporate what is being suggested, just be sure to carefully consider the comments and whether or not the point being made is valid, even if the solution doesn’t work for you.

      Good writing!

      Danielle
      http://www.sidhenadaire.com
      http://lit_handyman.livejournal.com

    • Great post, and it reminds of one of my favorite quotes:

      “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
      ~Michelangelo