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While I’m still thinking about revisions, here’s some thoughts on feedback and critiquing. I think feedback and critiquing are vital as long as they come at the right part of the process for you (which is something you need to work out). These days I need to do the first draft and have that solid feel for the story before I get much feedback other than brainstorming when I’m stuck or else it can throw my writing off. I need to get my version of the story down before I can let other voices into my head about it.

But once I’m through that first draft I know that fresh eyes will see things in the story that I never can and help it grow stronger (plus catch all those annoying typos and inconsistencies that stay in no matter how many times I read the darn thing *g*)

However being critiqued is never a pain free process for most people. Partly because when you first get any negative (for want of a better term, ie something needs fixing) feedback, the instinctive reaction of most people is “no no no, my book is just fine, I made it pretty, why don’t they like it, wah, no no no, I’m going to go and eat worms and take up stamp collecting”. Or something like that depending on your maturity level, your current hormonal state and what else is happening in life generally. Sometimes feedback is like water off a ducks back, sometimes it will sting more than you expected or wanted it too.

This is human nature. You’ve worked hard and now someone is telling you that, for them, all your hard work hasn’t quite delivered. Most people naturally get defensive in this situation (it’s essentially a mini-rejection or might be an actual rejection depending on who it’s coming from….) Which is why it’s a good idea to just listen or read and then sit on negative feedback until that initial defensiveness goes away and the rational part of the brain takes over and remembers that “this bit didn’t work” doesn’t mean “your book sucks, you’re a hack and you’re ugly too”. This is why lots of writing workshops etc insist that the person being critiqued can’t talk during a critique.

It’s fine to have that initial reaction but it’s not fine to stay at that level of reaction. You can vent about it (in private) or sulk (in private) or whine (in private) but eventually you have to put on the big girl pants and move past the defensive and detach the emotion so you can look at the work and evaluate the comments rationally so you can make your book better. It’s also why, as a critiquer, you need to give positive and negative feedback and think about how you phrase feedback.

When you get feedback of the “this didn’t quite work” or “have you thought about X” variety, I think there are four main categories of reactions, two positive, two negative. First the positive:

1. “Yes!! That’s brilliant, why didn’t I think of that?, I love my crit buddies because they are geniuses and deserve medals and chocolate.” These are the comments that you just instinctively know are right for your story, that give you insight into something that was eluding you or give you a piece that’s missing or just make something better. Take this feedback and run with it and tell the person who gave it to you that they are pretty and shiny and give them Tim Tams.

2. “Yes. Damn, I was hoping no-one would notice that.” This is the reluctant-but-you-knew-it-was-coming yes when someone calls you on something that didn’t quite work or where you haven’t quite gone deep enough etc. Those bits that you kind of vaguely know in your gut aren’t quite working but that you ignore for now in the hope that you’re wrong. You’re not and you’ve just been told. So you’re going to have to run with these too.

Then we come to the no’s. No is trickier.

1. “Hell, no!” This might be the opposite of “Yes, that’s brilliant” ie something you know just isn’t right for the story you’re writing (which is fine, it’s your story and it’s your job to make the ‘hell, no’ call so you don’t get pulled off track or break it) or it might be your initial instinctive defensive reaction. You need to wait a bit and see if it morphs from ‘hell, no” to either of the yes versions (which it might just do). How long that takes depends on your process. It might also morph to the second sort of no…

2. “No, because…” This is the one to really pay attention to. If your reaction is no, z can’t happen because x, y or w or no, A wouldn’t do that, because of B and C, then you need to stop and think. It’s great that you know why the feedback or suggested fix isn’t right for your story but it’s not so great that your reader didn’t understand why. So you need to look at it again. Is stuff in your head that’s not on the page? Have you not made a motivation clear? Did you do something confusing that gave them the wrong impression? Most of the time, no because means you need to go back and do a bit more work to clarify. Not always. Sometimes whoever is critting for you just doesn’t click with your story or wants it to be a certain way and you may have everything in place you need for it to work your way and they’ll still argue for a different way.

No because is a gift because it spotlights where you need to do work and often gives you insight into the story. I know I’m often surprised by a “no because x” because I hadn’t consciously thought about the x part before but it pops up from the subconscious right when it’s needed. This is true for me in brainstorming too. It’s my “no, that’s not quite it” reactions to people’s suggestions that often guide me to the right solution. The no becauses are what I most often want to talk about with my crit buddies to explore why my view of something hasn’t gotten across to them and how to make it work.

So there you go. Most importantly, regardless of how you feel about the feedback you received, you thank the person and appreciate the time they’ve taken. Time away from their own writing or lives to read your scene or chapter or book. Time they’ve spent trying to help you and your story. That’s an awesome thing to do and why great crit partners should be treasured (mine all rock, btw : ) ) and fed chocolate or whatever they prefer regularly.

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