Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sifting Through Feedback

by Calista Taylor

Most writers receive feedback from several sources before declaring their manuscript done.  Often, one will first have critique partners go through the chapters, meticulously commenting and line editing.  Then once the manuscript is has seen several edits based on the information received from those critique partners, it will go to beta readers for yet more comments and final rounds of editing.

The question is, now that you have a mountain of feedback, what do you do with it?  All feedback is invaluable, because you're receiving a "reader's" feedback.  But does that mean you should make all the changes recommended?

I think, first and foremost, you need to remember that you know your story—and your writing style—best.  If changing something doesn't ring true to you, then don't change it.  This is a time when you should be listening to that little voice in your head.

Here are a couple of things I like to keep in mind and might help you sift through the feedback you receive, if it's ever been an issue.
  • If several critique partners/betas comment on the same thing, it's something to seriously consider—even if you do still feel it's true to your story.  I know this contradicts what I said just moments earlier, but if a majority of your readers comment on an issue, then it may be to your advantage to tweak things so it's no longer an issue.  Even better if you can resolve the issue and still stay true to your story and style.
  • Take into consideration the genre your reviewer writes/reads.  I often have critique partners/betas that read/write a different genre, because they'll see things differently and will pick up on issues that may have gotten glossed over otherwise.  However, it seems like things that are perfectly acceptable for the genre I write, will come up as "issues" for those that don't normally read that genre.  As a result, I do keep in mind what is or isn't acceptable for my genre when sifting through their comments.
  • Often, you'll need to find the balance between a technically correct and proper way of writing and your writing style and voice.  To me, voice is everything, so if I receive feedback that changes my writing style and voice, those comments are going to be given a lot of thought before any changes are made.  The truth is, I'll likely ignore the comments that change my writing style and diminish the voice.
  • Finally, remember that it will by your name on that manuscript, and any changes made should feel true to you.
 How do you deal with the feedback you receive?


JeffO said...

Very timely post. I'm sitting on two copies of my ms filled with red ink (and expecting a third) and loads of suggestions/comments, and have been trying to figure out how to proceed!

Calista Taylor said...

Excellent, Jeff! Best of luck with your manuscript. It really is a bit of a balancing act, but one that's well worth it.

LD Masterson said...

And here I sit with my "completed" manuscript and a round of feedback from a dozen beta readers trying to decide where to go from here.

Calista Taylor said...

Best of luck, LD!! Hopefully this will help you sift through it all. : )

Christopher Hudson said...

Writing is subjective ... and so is the feedback ... read it, weight it, consider it ... and, after you've beaten yourself up sufficiently, if changes make sense to you then, make them ... remember, it is your work ... it has to meet your standards first and foremost.

Rick said...

Good topic, and you laid it out very well. Other readers of different types, writers or just readers, can offer valuable insights where things confuse, lack continuity, gloss over a plot point that, because it's in our heads, we give too little of. Those things should be addressed.

Line editing is a different animal. If we know our craft, we recognize and correct real mistakes.

BUT, if it's an objection to HOW we've written something because it doesn't fit how someone else thinks it should sound, then we need to assess if it's a matter of voice and stay true to ourselves.

That said, I've had readers point to passages that were lovely, lyrical writing, true to my voice, and absolutely unnecessary in driving the story. That's when we need to listen and murder our darlings, tighten the work, and cut the word count. A balancing act, to be sure.

To me, the key is to remain open and responsive, which does not mean making every change suggested. It's our work, but they are our potential readers and buyers.

Writers of experimental literary fiction may disagree, but they'd better be pretty damn good!

Talei said...

If the feedback is from experienced writers I do listen carefully. I find though, that with critiquing, you pick what you think will work for your story. All feedback is good, its just a matter of deciding which parts you will change. As long as it improves the story in the end. ;-)

Jemi Fraser said...

My approach echoes yours - listen, absorb - then go with your gut. More or less, anyway :)

Marcia said...

Very good points! Yes, it can help to have people who both do and don't write/read your genre.

Calista Taylor said...

Christopher, it really is so important to remember that this is a very subjective business and craft.

Rick, so important to hold onto one's voice. Taking every suggestion made by everyone will only result in a homogenized manuscript that lacks voice.

Talei, so true-- all feedback is valuable, but it's good to know that not all feedback needs to be acted upon.

Jemi, so important to go with your gut!

Marcia, it really has been beneficial to me, since every genre has it's strengths and weaknesses.

Leslie Rose said...

Great advice. Sometimes all the tendrils of critiques make my brain fold in on itself. I do use the "looking for patterns" approach.

E.B. Black said...

Unfortunately, the only person who ever reads my stories and gives me feedback is my boyfriend. Friends have even asked to read my novel, I'll take the time to print it out for them, and then months later they haven't even read the first sentence.

Luckily, my boyfriend gets me completely and is very wise. Every single bit of critiquing he's given me, I've agreed with and changed. I guess we're just very in synch.

Nancy Johnston said...

Wonderful relationship! I tried appropriately hard to follow the rules, for a even though I killed my voice (never a to your liking have an effect on). This proclaim is a nice authenticity check. You learn the rules so you know which ones fiddle following for you.
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