How Should a Writer Respond to Feedback?

So, you've attended a critique group and need to know what to do with the feedback. First, and foremost, keep writing. Don't spend every meeting rehashing the same pages.

What Do You Do With the Feedback?

As you keep writing remember the following:

You don't have to change everything the group suggests. The work is yours. You've joined a group for feedback, but sometimes it's worthwhile to take that feedback with a grain of salt. Not everyone will agree on what works and what doesn't. If everyone, or most everyone, tells you something, it's probably worth considering. Also, notice who gave you the information. I've gotten great feedback from less experieinced writers, but when the feedback gives me pause, I do consider the background and genre experience of the person providing the feedback. If you choose to ignore certain feedback, make sure it's based on something you can explain. For instance, it's goes against the personality of your character or changes the story line.

If you don't understand a comment, ask for more information. Some groups ask the writer not to speak during the feedback, but I find this annoying and unhelpful. If someone says something about my writing and it's not clear what they're telling me, I ask.

If you disagree with a comment or it surprises you, ask if others in the group agree with the feedback. Every now and then, a comment will surface that gives me pause. Let's face it, we all read with our own perspectives, so another person's reaction can be quite different from your own. If it feels really out of left field, then put the question to the whole group. If you get broad agreement, then it's probably worth exploring the feedback further.

Feedback is subjective. There are many accepted standards of writing, so you want to learn those, but when it comes to the story line itself, make sure you don't take advice that sends you down the wrong path with your story. I let a group convince me that my character behaved too stoically for the circumstances. What happened? I turned a princess into a sniveling brat. Not good, and an agent reprimanded me for it. Ouch!

If the critique hurts, ask yourself why you're there. Some people come to writers' groups to hear other writers proclaim them as a great writer. We had a guy attend years ago who introduced himself as the next John Grisham. When we didn't fawn all over his work, he left. It takes an ego to write, but it takes humility to receive honest feedback. If you don't want honest feedback (even given in a tactful way), then choose a different group. There are groups that will pat you on the back and tell you how great you are. Your writing won't improve, but your ego will remain safe.

What about you? What's the oddest feedback you've received? Did you accept it or cast it aside?


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