You’ve finally finished that first draft. Congratulations! After months or even years of work, you’re ready to allow another set of eyes to read your precious words. You know it’s not perfect, and will likely need revision. But you’ve read it over and over, tweaked it and revised it, and now you need feedback in order to take your WIP or, Work In Progress, to the next level.
Test Drive Your Work
Finishing a first draft of a novel is a big accomplishment, but it’s only the beginning of your project’s journey. Having someone, and ideally, several people, read your draft and provide feedback is the logical next step whether you plan to self-publish or submit your manuscript for publication. There is only so much the creator of a story can see, and what is on the page may limited or confusing to a reader. Think of it as a test drive for your novel, before it goes out on the open road.
Have your significant other or family and friends read it, if you want, but in most cases their feedback will not yield the kind of constructive criticism you need to improve your work. The relationships color their feedback, and it may be overly positive or overly critical, or even benign, depending on the dynamics. It may be actually easier to take criticism (until you have developed a thick skin) from professionals (such as editors) or colleagues (critique partners), because of the distance and limited relationship.
Once you get the feedback from whoever has read your manuscript, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Even if they are a professional, it is only their opinion. You should consider all feedback, but it does not mean you have to use every single suggestion.
Look for trends or commonalities in the feedback. If a certain word, sentence or scene bothered several people, it needs to be addressed.
Read all comments or notes, but don’t try to fix anything right away. Let it marinate for a few days if possible.
Thank everyone who gave you feedback either in person or via email or message. Taking time out to read and give feedback is a kind thing to do for someone and takes effort.
The Down Side
But what if the feedback was mostly negative?
The first thing you should do is allow yourself to react. Politely thank everyone, as stated above, and then go somewhere alone to vent. Feeling hurt? It’s normal. Angry? Also normal. Allow yourself to work through all the emotions. You were brave and put yourself out there, and now someone has stomped on your dreams! Cry, yell, draw rude pictures of your critique partners and throw darts at them. Write a letter explaining why they are wrong, and then burn it or rip it up. Get all the bad feelings out before talking to anyone about how the feedback made you feel.
Then let it go for a few days. Your ego is bruised and sore, so let it heal. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the hurtful critique was spot on or off base. It doesn’t matter if you think you can fix it or not. All that matters is gaining some perspective about your work, and restoring your confidence.
Writers feel things more deeply than most people; that’s often what prompts them to write in the first place. It’s a great thing to be emotional when creating, but editing and revision is a totally different skill set. It takes practice to turn off the emotional side and look at your work objectively, as others do. So venting after a disappointing critique or review may help to get you back in balance so you can be objective about the feedback.
The bottom line is, it’s your story, and you must ultimately decide how to use the feedback, positive or negative. Sometimes it’s just the reader’s personal preferences filtering their comments. The more you write and get feedback, the more discerning you will be at accepting/rejecting and using feedback.
Then you can polish that baby till it shines, and unleash it on the world!
And then there will be reviews, but that’s a whole other subject…