Accepting feedback

From Jane Friedman’s blog: 3 Traps That Subvert Our Ability to Accept Feedback

Ooh, ooh! I know! Without looking, these might be something like:

  1. It’d be too much trouble to make the changes suggested. Surely the story is okay the way it is.
  2. I don’t know how to make the changes suggested. Surely the story is okay the way it is.
  3. How dare anybody suggest changes to my deathless prose?

So those are my guesses.

Let’s see what the post actually says …

  1. The green-light trap. Let me see. All right, this trap occurs when the author has been told too often by family members and friends that the work is great, when it’s not actually great. The author is then stunned when they get critical feedback. So that’s a lot like my third guess above.
  2. The bear trap. Great name, but what is it? Okay, this one is supposed to be a problem where the author has used their work as a means of working out personal problems, but doesn’t realize it. I think that’s what this means. Or a problem where the author is too emotionally invested in the work, because it is excessively personal. Or something like that. I can see now that this whole post is more aimed at memoir and related kinds of work.
  3. The lottery ticket trap. Hmm. Okay, this is supposed to be a trap where the author sends out work specifically in the hope of receiving validation rather than feedback, and is then crushed to receive the latter rather than the former.

So … yes, the post is mainly aimed at memoir and related works, which I didn’t realize going in. These “traps” are a lot more psychological in nature than I was expecting. For my own list, the first two are very much craft related: I’m bored reworking this novel and just want someone to tell me it’s fine the way it is. Or, I have no clue how to fix this problem, so I’m hoping someone will tell me there’s no problem.

For those sorts of craft-related problems, feedback is useful because it says, essentially, Suck it up and make the changes you know you ought to make. That weakness you see? Other people see it too.

Also, when thinking of craft, feedback can shake loose ideas about how to fix a problem when you may be stuck. More than once, I’ve called my brother and said, “This and that and thus and so, and now what should I do?” You don’t have to have someone offer the greatest idea ever (though that is nice if it happens). You just have to have someone to kick ideas around with, to encourage your very own subconscious to present you with something helpful.

The deathless prose thing is a lot more psychological in nature. I expect everything like that is more difficult to deal with than craft-related reluctance to accept feedback.

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5 thoughts on “Accepting feedback”

  1. While you don’t want to get feedback when you can fix the problems yourself — otherwise you burned your chance to get their first impression — you do want to get it before you did so much work on the story that you are just tired of it and can’t change the most egregious flaws.

  2. Actually, I *usually* do not want feedback on a manuscript until I have a complete first draft. I *usually* really hate talking about an unfinished manuscript and most often just don’t. Only now and then, particularly if I’m pretty stuck, it can be helpful to send an unfinished manuscript to a reader (usually my brother) and say, “What do I do NOW?”

    Flaws as such, I’d really rather deal with after a draft is complete.

  3. For memoir writers in particular, I assume an agent will recommend “Dreyer’s English: an Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” He starts of with a vignette about Line Editor Appreciation Day, and goes on with grace and humor about (a) how-to write and (b) the benefits of constructive criticism.

  4. I generally wait until at least the second draft for feedback. But I once read a book where the author told me that my feedback was right but he’s too sick of the work to try to fix it.

  5. FWIW when Rachel calls me about something, I may see a solution right away (which may not work for her), but more often I’ll come up with not-so-great option A, and we’ll kick things back and forth to produce B & C. Maybe one of those will work, or maybe the process will inspire her to create solution D later on.

    What feedback is helpful, and at what stage, are probably yet more cases where writers differ more than you might expect.

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