The Seemingly Contradictory Steps to Taking Feedback
Updated: May 25
As some of you may know, the query for my unmotherhood memoir, Free or Less, was featured on a popular podcast last week! I hovered over my smart speaker in the kitchen, sick to my stomach with anticipation at 5:55 a.m. Would CeCe want to read my full manuscript? Would Carly think it’s the best query she’s ever heard? Would Traci want to feature the finished book on her podcast?
Spoiler alert: that's not how it went down. The panel thought my first five pages came off like an “over-rehearsed play.” It fell flat like overworked bread dough. They also thought I should start somewhere else entirely… So, in addition to a major edit to make it seem more effortless, I also need to do a major structural edit. My dreams of speedy publication and a quick rise to the bestseller list were dashed.
Are you okay? some friends asked, concern knitting their brows. I assured them I was, and I wasn’t lying. It’s so easy to focus on the negatives, but there were plenty of positives in there too. The experts gave me kudos on my specificity, interiority, and writing ability. And the constructive feedback will allow me to make my work better. And I want that for my book!
I am lucky that I am used to receiving all types of feedback through online and in-person writing groups, and contests. And like with anything, practice makes perfect. My experiences have helped me receive feedback gracefully (for the most part).
Here are some tips for anyone out there new to the feedback game.
Wearing an Emotional Suit of Armor
Don’t. Take. It. Personally. I know, I know. It feels personal. Your work is personal—it’s your heart walking around outside your body. But if you don’t have some emotional distance, you won’t be able to make it the best it can be. When CeCe said she wouldn’t be interested in reading my book did it hurt? Sure. Like the stab of a thousand daggers. When Traci felt the text showed a lack of vulnerability was I impacted? As if I got punched in the gut. But I reminded myself it wasn't personal--even if it felt that way.
Just because someone has feedback doesn’t mean they don’t like the piece, or you as a writer. Even if they don’t like the piece or you as a writer, they are only one person. It would be an awfully boring literary landscape if we all liked the same things.
With an Open Heart and Mind
Despite the armor, you need to have your heart and mind open and consider the feedback slowly and mindfully. Trust me, you will want to give a knee-jerk “no way” and explain your intent. Traci said it seemed like I was trying to shock people with my reaction and I wasn’t being vulnerable in a scene showing me at my emotional lowest. It would have been easy to get defensive. But it doesn’t matter what I was trying to say. It matters how it comes across.
With a Grain of Salt
You don’t need to take every edit. At the end of the day, it is your work. You should consider all the edits but make sure the piece doesn’t become your editor’s. If you don’t believe it’s the best direction for your work after reflecting deeply and giving yourself some time, don’t do it. It has to fulfill your intentions in your voice—not theirs.
With a Dousing of Appreciation
Unless you are paying them, no one owes you anything. Beta readers, critique partners, and editors are investing their time and energy in you. Make sure you let them know you appreciate it—even if you don’t agree with everything they say 😉
It’s been a week since the podcast aired. After taking a few days to reflect I started ripping out the stitches of my story and restructuring it. I now start a whopping 32 years earlier. I fleshed out a whole scene I previously only mentioned in passing, where I play the Virgin Mary at my Kindergarten Christmas play.
And do you know what? It’s better. My strong reaction and guilt at my best friend’s pregnancy can only be understood if we go back in time first and see how and where I grew up.
So thanks to the Shit, and everyone else who has been kind enough to provide me feedback in the past. I appreciate it and look forward to working with you again soon!