When Should You Listen to Writing Feedback? Part 1

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

All writers need a reliable critique group or partner if they want to publish their best manuscript.

Even if you self-publish, relying on your family's and best friends' feedback is not wise. You’ll spend a lot of money and time on what probably isn’t your best work. If you want to sell books or catch the eye of an agent, knowledgeable feedback remains a significant part of the writing and revision process.

There are many guidelines about what’s acceptable in today’s publishing environment, many of which I’ve discussed in this blog. Without feedback from knowledgeable people, you may spin your wheels trying to get an agent. Or worse, you self-publish a book that fails to take off or gain positive reviews.

I've written numerous posts about critique groups and partners here if you want to explore this topic further.

The practice of critiquing someone's writing is often subjective, not objective. Two experienced people may give you conflicting information. That’s the nature of the business. Learning how to discern between valuable, useful, or invalid suggestions becomes a crucial skill for any determined writer.

How can you know when to disregard and when to listen to feedback?

Don’t ignore feedback because your favorite author violated the guideline proposed to you

When a novice writer first hears feedback about avoiding passive verbs or adverbs or some other unfamiliar guideline, many argue their favorite and well-known author doesn’t follow the guidelines. The problem with this argument lies in the words “well-known author.” The reasons professionals get away with breaking the rules can include:
  • The established author knows the rules and when it’s acceptable to bend them.
  • The referenced work is decades old. Writing guidelines, just like in any other industry, shift over time. What worked in the 1980s doesn’t necessarily fly in 2019.
  • Some authors get sloppy. Maybe they’re pushed to meet a deadline or struggling to get something on the page or feel like they’ve paid their dues. 

Any of these reasons could cause an author to cut a few corners. It doesn’t make it right. If they keep it up, they’ll eventually see the results in a declining audience or lost contract.

Don’t ignore feedback from someone with publishing credentials

Most authors and editors willing to give you feedback do so with good intentions. If you don’t agree with the suggestion, ask for further explanation. You don’t have to accept every piece of feedback as law, but you do need to consider its validity prior to accepting or vetoing it. Ask them to explain their reasoning. Can they give examples of why it’s important to consider? Can they suggest a better method or word or…?

Don’t accept “I don’t like this” feedback without an explanation

If someone objects or dislikes a word or scene or action or something else in your manuscript, they need to provide a reason why or a suggestion on how to correct it.

Some of us have writing biases. I can’t stand it when an author writes that someone "stepped" across the room.” I flag it every time I critique or edit someone’s work. Why? It feels like the writer tried hard not to say walked but couldn’t find a better synonym. Why not just say they walked across the room? Or use a more descriptive word such as stomped, tiptoed, shuffled, etc? Yet, despite my dislike of this verb choice, it still appears in many works. The decision falls to the writer on whether to use the feedback and my explanation or not.

Do question feedback that changes your story or your character

Occasionally, someone might tell you, “I don’t think your character would do this or say this,” or “I think this should happen in your story.” While it doesn't hurt to listen to their ideas, make sure it fits with the character you've developed. One way to create conflict in a story is for the character to act against their norm. Maybe a person who’s afraid of heights crawls out on a high ledge. Why did they do it? What propelled them to act out of character? That’s the compelling part of your story.

If the suggestion changes your story's plot, you don’t have to accept it, either. Before you discount this suggestion, consider what might happen if you take your story down the recommended path. Does the idea excite you? Will it  work with your premise?

Sometimes, the feedback will catch something that doesn’t fit. Thank them for catching it and then fix it. If they caught it, your reader will too.

Wait! There's more

I've covered four tips in this post. Come back next week for four more in part two of when you should listen to writing feedback.


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