As I wait for Thea to get home, and for my friend, George, to come over later on in order for us to all experience the greatest party of the summer, WWE’s Summerslam (!!), I’ll take this opportunity on this beautiful day (which you can see below) to let you guys in on a little secret that people, usually myself included, often ponder upon: just how should you receive feedback.
This past Friday I received further feedback from one of my beta readers, someone whose opinion I trust due to how much of a voracious reader he is. The books he reads, and the authors he likes, tend to cross over with my own taste, and so I figured he would be a good fit as a beta reader – someone who would read it critically, unafraid to rip it apart if needed, yet, at the same time, the kind of person who might be interested in the book if they were to see it on the shelves, or find a good review.
Given my past experiences with feedback (Feedback Monster), and going even further back (Ego Attack), it seems that every time I approach feedback with a false sense of confidence (“They’ll love it!”, “Why haven’t I heard from them in a while? They must be figuring out a way to tell me THEY LOVE IT!”, and other such hopeless delusions) I get knocked back quite a bit because, of course, it’s never as good as you possibly think it is.
The first time was especially hard, as I thought I had done a good job of being aware of the pitfalls that other authors usually find themselves falling into. But not me, nope. Except, yes.
Very much so with the yes.
So to have a feedback session, let alone one that took place face to face over lunch, left me with a bit of a knot in my stomach. It’s always difficult to receive bad news when it concerns something you’ve poured so much of yourself into, but every step should, in theory, lead you one step closer to making it that much better, especially as sometimes the last person to be able to see the problems is yourself, as the creator of it.
Getting positive feedback over the course of this lunch was invigorating. The hardest thing was to just not burst out into the goofiest smile as we jumped between the negative areas that needed work or potential change, and the positives he found. It’s funny given how I covered the importance of encouraging an artist (again in Feedback Monster) – not for their own sake of ego, but to stoke the flames into wanting to make something better, rather than extinguishing the creative fire within them.
Every creative individual is inherently insecure, whether they’ll admit it or not, or are hiding it under a veneer of arrogance. We all want our work to be liked, but accepting the fact that it won’t be is a universal truth we have to come to terms with. As is receiving feedback with grace and humility – something that jiu jitsu has helped me with to no end.
The interesting thing about this session was the contradictory highlights/lowlights for this reader compared to the other notes I’ve been given. The aspects he loved were things another loathed.
I’ve come across these cross wired notes before during University and every movie project I’ve written; it’s simply a fact that a collaborative process will yield. People’s backgrounds, likes, dislikes, and personal histories inflect their opinion and outlook on life; the complicated process now comes in whittling out the genuine issues, rather than notes that are predicated solely on personal opinion.
It’s worth noting at this point that their opinions aren’t wrong. Far from it. It’s an opinion for god sakes. But just because they have said opinion, doesn’t mean it’s something you need to immediately amend in your script or manuscript.
Far from it.
What it means is that you need to critically assess whether they have seen something you weren’t able to.
We all want the positive feedback, to be told that it’s “perfect” and perhaps doesn’t need any more amending, that it’s totally 100% ready to be sent to a publisher or literary agent, and although it’s gratifying to receive it in a “thank Christ you like it” manner, you need to be able to take the good with as much salt as you take the bad. All artists and creators want validation through acceptance, and that’s exactly what the positive feedback is. But you must learn to take all feedback, both good and bad, in good stead and with grace – there’s just as much you can glean for improvement from the positive as the negative.
So with that said, what are you waiting for? Reread those feedback notes, remove your ego from the equation, and start rewriting!
As for me? Well, I also happened to receive from this particular beta reader a most unexpected gift, something they referred to as ‘homework’. Man, it’s the best kind of homework I could receive.
I look forward to tackling the inevitable redraft once I’ve absorbed this books knowledge, and I should also have the feedback from a few other beta readers by then.
It’s a long journey, and depressingly there seems to be no end in sight and no clearly marked path for me to tread, but that’s part of the adventure, I guess. And given the confidence the positive feedback session has charged me with, I’m ready to tackle this behemoth of a task, armed with the positive AND the negative to hone it into the best story it can be.
How do you tend to deal with receiving feedback, whether it’s positive or negative? What’s the most extreme adjustment you’ve made based on a piece of feedback you’ve received in the past, I’d love to know!