Feedback: 3 Attitudes that Help

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I’m working on a novel and have just gotten a couple rounds of feedback from friends. Here’s what I noticed.

They didn’t give me the answer I wanted!

Be Open. I wanted them to say that this version was perfect, ready to send out. What they said was:
Are you sure this should be chapter 2 and not chapter 3?
Are you sure that you want to start the chapter this way?
Are you sure that you want to end the chapter this way?
If you do X, then later it will mean Y or Z. Are you sure you want that?

Notice: They are not telling me that I must change anything! They are merely giving me a professional opinion about what might need a second look.

Sigh. Good friends, aren’t they? They don’t let me get by with mediocre.

They Let Me Ask Questions

Accept Ultimate Responsibility. I have no idea where it started, this idea that authors should sit quietly and “take criticism.” It’s ridiculous. At least, to me.

No, I’m not arguing and saying that YOU are wrong. Of course, you’re just giving me “your opinion.” Of course, I need to know what you, as the reader, were feeling and experiencing as you read.

That’s great. But what I ALSO need is to understand exactly what you mean when you say, “I didn’t like that part.”

I need to ask questions to clarify the feedback, or the feedback is pointless to me. Did you not like it because you–personally–hate dogs and would never voluntarily read about them? Or did you not like it because the pacing was off? Or was it a single word choice that would make a difference?

Did you pick up on something in the last chapter that leaves you expecting something here? If so, can I change that bit in the last chapter and make this work here? Or, do you really think I must change this bit here?

There are so many, many variables in writing fiction: everything builds on what was done before and the choice of WHERE to revise is open; everything builds on the interconnections between ideas and language and the choice of WHERE to revise is open.

How can I make a wise choice, if I don’t understand exactly–with a great deal of precision–where the problem lies?

Fortunately, my friends let me “argue.” I need that.

The Ultimate Choices are Mine: I Appreciate the Help

Be Thankful. In the end, though, my friends also leave the choices with me, as it should be. This is my story and it’s my vision for the story that matters. They suggest, prod, try to veto, nudge and encourage. That’s all they can do. In the end, it’s me and the words on the page. But thanks friends, for those nudges. I need those to keep going!

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3 Comments
  • Deborah Halverson
    June 14, 2011

    I agree that asking questions is very different from arguing or being defensive. If you don’t fully understand a criticism, then you’re wasting both your time as well as your critiquers.

  • tahmina
    July 12, 2012

    Darcy, I noticed you said, friends and not editors in this post. I’m curious at what point in your revision process you turn to friends, and when you turn to editors for feedback? Or are they one and the same for you?

  • Darcy Pattison
    July 12, 2012

    It could be either. Basically, my responses are the same.
    Darcy