…or have told the story that way, or chosen that viewpoint, or said that…
We’ve all heard criticism that irritates or down right hurts us from time to time. And it’s always hard to take because even if you find yourself agreeing, it irks that you didn’t see it for yourself. Often it makes you feel like you’ve lost ‘face’ and have to defend yourself: in my writing circle from time to time I hear dark mutterings along the lines of ‘of course it’s just a rough draft’ implying that they would have picked that up themselves in the very next revision. This is wrong thinking by the way because it’s almost impossible to see your own mistakes; you already know what the piece is supposed to be saying, so you tend only to see what you think you’ve written rather than what you’ve actually written. So it’s best just to accept it and don’t be embarrassed.
At a recent writers’ conference workshop I attended, led by a published and talented author, we were all invited to read a short extract of our work for comment. In each case the course leader gave constructive and helpful feedback and delivered it in a most positive and considerate way. I found myself in complete agreement with nearly all of what she said. However, when one woman received this kindly meant feedback, she jumped up and yelled, ‘I get this kind of criticism everywhere I go. You people just don’t understand what my novel is about!’ Then she stormed out of the workshop.
Later, I found myself next to her in the coffee queue where she was continuing to protest loudly at her treatment. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for this woman. She obviously wanted to write and be read but if, as she said, she was receiving the same criticism everywhere, she clearly wasn’t taking it on board. I could have tried explaining this but I have a feeling she would just have started ranting at me too.
But if she carries on ignoring this constructive feedback, I fear she may never realise her ambition to sell her work (I was going to say see her work in print but self-publishing is so easy now that this is no longer the case). Such a shame. There is no doubt in my mind that some of my published short stories in national magazines like Best and Bella, would never have made it into print if I hadn’t listened to, and acted upon, excellent feedback from my trusted inner circle of first readers and my colleagues in various writing groups.
So if you’re lucky enough to find people who are sufficiently interested to give you genuine feedback then LISTEN and, even if it hurts, thank them politely, go away somewhere that you can quietly lick your wounds, allow some time and then evaluate what you’ve been told. After all, you will always have the final say and if you don’t agree well you’re in charge and you can just ditch the advice you don’t like!