Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Listen and Reflect

Today I'm thinking about feedback, and how critical it is in the process of becoming a writer. Not just that you get feedback--that is vital, unless you're a random genius who is perfect, and then we would all have to hate you--but how you judge it, and how you accept it.

Newbies, for example, are often swayed by the slightest breeze of a comment. I tread particularly carefully when critting newbies, because they are so very easy to crush. "You have an opinion about my work? (You actually read my work, wow!) Of course you're right! I'll change it right away!" And then the next critiquer comes along and says the opposite, and the newbie changes again. And again. We have all been there. Finally at some point it comes home, with a slam. How can all of these people be right, when they contradict each other? And why should they know more about my characters than me?

Unfortunately, this leads some into the donkey phase. I will not budge my work is right I am the only one who knows here let me explain to you what this really means and why you just aren't seeing it correctly...

Hmm, perhaps this should be the "toddler phase" instead.

Donkey/toddler people think that they want feedback, but they don't. They want validation that their work is perfect as is, and praise up the wazoo. When they don't get that, they either argue or they lash out, but they don't listen. (Some writers are, I fear, trapped in the donkey/toddler phase.)

At a certain point, if you're really taking this thing seriously and want to succeed, you have to move into "listen and reflect". Here you ask a variety of people for feedback (of course, not just your friends, your mom, or your co-workers; also ask experts in your field, your historical area, the region your book takes place in, and agents, if you're that far in), and you LISTEN. Carefully. Attentively. With as much distance as you can muster. You resist the urge to jump in and say "but but". You write down their comments, or you save them in neat files. You say "thank you very much; your feedback is so important to me." Then you don't look at it for a while (more distance).

When you've gathered a bunch, you take it all out and look at it again, all together. Chances are those points that seemed so hurtful and mean the first time (and yes, sometimes they still do) seem much calmer and more reasoned now. So now you can analyze it. Is there a pattern? Are different people saying the same things? Weigh them based on their expertise. Put more weight on the regional critiquer's comments about the landscape than your neighbor's. ;)

Then, most important, reflect. Which ones resonate with you? Which suggestions are things that had crossed your mind, but you really didn't want to admit it? Which ones make you excited to think about changing? Which ones cause you to think differently about the whole work, see how it could be better?

This is what I'm doing with TMT. I've gotten a little flak here and there that I'm "changing it for agents" or "changing it based on a few comments". No. Three agents read it and made comments, and some of those comments were RIGHT ON. I knew it, after my defense mechanisms shut down. I knew that the book was okay as is, but if I did these things it would be oh so much better. I'm not writing "to" anybody, except me. But I asked, then I listened, and then I reflected. I think if you do anything else in this business--if you're a swayer or a donkey--you're sunk before you start.

Medieval Word of the Day: recolage: wanton or riotous conduct.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Susan,

You are so right on here. And I love the term "donkey". That's perfect.

--Rose

Susan Adrian said...

Thanks, Rose! Though I thought you could also relate to toddler. {g}

Susan

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister! Couldn't have said it better myself...and now I don't have to. [g]

--Linda

Susan Adrian said...

Thanks, Linda! We've probably discussed before at some point. At least there's a future for newbies; at some point they'll stop swaying. Donkeys I worry about. {s}

S.

Vicki Pettersson said...

Nicely said. I don't know who's giving you flak, but being market savvy isn't the same as being a flunkie. I changed SoS according to my agent and my editor's suggestions ... does that mean I don't know my own mind? No. It means I didn't come to the table knowing everything. I'm a work in progress, as much as my book, and I'm just pleased someone took me on anyway.

Susan Adrian said...

Vicki:

Exactly. As long as you know it's still true to the book, and makes it better, you SHOULD listen. That's the difference!!

Susan

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan:
I like this post, it's thoughtful and right on the money. Love the donkey/toddler image, too! I'm wondering now where I am...I don't show many people, and my feelings about their response vary according to who the person is. Hmmm. Food for thought.
Thanks!
Cindy

Susan Adrian said...

Cindy:

I'm so glad you found it useful! Just don't fall into the donkey thing. That's a bad way to be...

S. (good to see you!)

sara said...

Susan,

Great post! And I know just what you mean, having encountered the stray toddler donkey in my day. *sigh*

/Sara E

Susan Adrian said...

Thanks, Sara! The donkeys are around, aren't they? {s}

S.