This comes out of some Wordslinger discussions about the Fairwood Writers workshop. Some of us got pretty mixed feedback and took it hard. I know what that’s like and last year’s feedback was, in part, discouraging. Other Wordslingers got feedback that said that the reviewer doesn’t care for that genre (or subgenre) and wanted to story to be about something different.
Now hearing that someone doesn’t like or get your genre, that’s the sort of feedback we can/should pretty much dismiss out of hand. Everyone likes different things and that’s fine but if I hate mysteries*then my critique of a mystery story should be taken with a whole handful of salt. But someone telling you to re-write your story to please them? Frankly, unless they’re dumping a truckload of money onto your front porch, you should tell them to take a hike. Mentally.
I say ‘mentally’ because dealing with negative feedback has two components. The internal and external. Let’s talk about the external first.
Externally, thank the reviewer for their time and for reading it.** Be polite. Be professional.*** Impressions matter, that monkey might be someone who is going to sitting on a review board or voting for you on an award or editing an anthology you’re dying to get into. They may not remember your story but they will remember you. Finally, no matter if the feedback is positive or negative, ignore it and write another story/chapter. That links into the internal response to feedback.
You can’t take let it stop or even slow down your writing. Momentum counts, in writing as well as the physical universe. If they praise you to the heavens, write another story. If they tell you that your story sucks, write another story. Otherwise, if someone’s feedback is REALLY going to make you stop writing, then you don’t want to be a writer badly enough.
That doesn’t mean that negative feedback or reviews don’t hurt. They do and I’m not trivializing the psychic damage and cruel or thoughtless review can cause. But you have to absorb it. You can’t take it personally, even if the reviewer is making personal attacks. You have to keep going.
Dealing with the negative feedback is hard enough, at least you know that hurts. How do you deal with feedback in general or praise that nonetheless steers your story in a different direction. For example, one piece of positive feedback I got for Mageborn Mechanic was they liked Simon’s interactions with machines and they wanted more of it. What could be more positive? Except if I take it too literally, I could bog down my lean, mean narrative speed with random conversations and divergences. These may entertain that reader, or most readers, even. But it wouldn’t be right for the story.
You have to accept or reject feedback in moderation. Never forget the story you were first inspired to tell. Weigh every piece of feedback against this standard: Does this feedback get me closer to the story that is in my head? If it does (and often it does, we NEED extra pairs of eyes to see and weigh and evaluate our stories), then accept that feedback, use it to improve your story. If the answer is no, then reject that feedback and forget it. With one caveat…if a lot of people are giving the same feedback, pay attention to it, even if it goes against what you were trying to do. It may mean that what you’re trying for doesn’t have a wide market or isn’t well executed or is a bad idea. It happens.
The fact is, if you want to write for any audience, for any other person, you have to submit your work to other people. You have to let them judge it. IT, not you. All they are evaluating is your work, no matter what they say.
Take the feedback, digest it and then use it or discard it and MOVE ON. Don’t let feedback slow you down. Keep writing, keep submitting and…keep in mind how it feels when it’s your turn to critique someone else’s work. There is something to be learned, even from the most negative feedback, even if it’s how not to do it, yourself.
*which I don’t. I can’t WRITE one but I don’t hate the genre
**Of course, if they didn’t even finish reading it…well…that’s another handful of salt. Though ask them where they stopped. That might be worth looking at, even if they are some nut.
***and have a plan to kill everyone in the room. Or maybe that’s from the USMC’s writing guidelines?