Now that I’ve finally sent my revised manuscript off to beta readers, I’ll be receiving and processing a lot of feedback over the next few months. For a writer, feedback is wonderful and terrible. Wonderful, because you finally break out of the mind-destroying cycle of reading and revising and revising the same text over and over and over until you utterly lose your mind and someone else, an actual person, is really and truly going to read the thing, which for writers is a kind of miracle. Terrible, because the manuscript is the work of years, the result of countless loops of the aforementioned mind-destroying cycle, its ink a little hard to read it’s because it’s covered with sweat and tears; and the prospect of someone looking at it and saying “Eh, this doesn’t do it for me” is shall we say somewhat disappointing.
But of course the negative feedback is even more necessary than the positive, so it’s crucial to develop strategies for processing and responding to it. One tactic I’ve found useful is to divide feedback into two types: reader feedback and writer feedback.
Reader feedback is a response that’s given from a reader’s point of view. “I like this character.” “This chapter is boring.” “I thought this scene was confusing.”
Writer feedback is a response that’s given from a writer’s point of view. “Don’t use passive voice.” “Cut out this chapter.” “Develop this character more.”
Reader feedback is subjective. The critiquer tells you how he feels. Writer feedback attempts to be objective, and generally tells you how to fix the problems it identifies.
Why does this matter? Simple. With reader feedback, you can take it at face value, because readers can never be wrong about their own subjective opinions. If five different people all think Chapter 8 is boring, guess what, my friend, Chapter 8 is boring.
Writer feedback, on the other hand, is only as good as the writer giving it. That means you have to be very, very careful about accepting it.
Think of it this way: if a friend feels your forehead and says you have a fever, or tells you your eyes are bloodshot, you’ll probably believe her. But if she starts prescribing you pills, you’re going to get worried. “Umm,” you say. “Are you, like, a doctor?“
Writing is the same way. That’s not to say writer feedback is bad – it can be great, in fact, if you get it from the right person. You just have to be careful.
Even bad writer feedback can be useful, though. You just convert it into reader feedback. “Cut out this scene” becomes “I didn’t like this scene, do something to fix it.” And the solution is up to you. Bam! Magic.
I hereby formally apologize to Gandalf the White and also Radagast the Brown for that horrible, horrible misuse of the word “magic.”
That is all.