Growing As a Writer by Embracing Constructive Feedback

How to receive and utilise feedback effectively to hone your writing craft,

After the first draft of my novel, I thought I was almost done. Sure, I needed to check grammar and maybe expand a few sections.

Boy, was I wrong!

Even though I had been writing for many years, I was new to the writing process and had very little idea of what was involved in crafting a polished manuscript.

I tinkered with the editing myself for a few months, believing it was almost publisher ready. Then I entered and won a competition on Twitter to receive a free structural edit from a Canadian editor. My eyes opened to what editing a manuscript entailed when I received that first round of feedback. I realised how much more work my novel needed, how much more I had to learn, and how passionate I was about honing my writing craft.

The Importance of Feedback

Constructive feedback on our writing is crucial in pushing us forward and growing as writers.

We all have a blind spots and read what we want to read. We skim and make up what makes sense many times, not what is written.

Good feedback can provide us with a new perspective and start plot ideas. Another person’s idea may start your own thought process leading to new or updated scenes.

Critique can also help us grow as human beings. To get full value from the feedback, we need to throw our ego out the door and not take it personal. This can be hard to learn when you have slaved over a story and someone pulls it apart. But remember, a human being gives the feedback, so apart from grammar issues, it will always be subjective.

Personal Stories of Receiving Feedback

My manuscript has taken me over 5 years and in that time I have eagerly sought feedback.

When I had finished my 2nd draft, I submitted my manuscript to a writing competition that provided feedback from three judges. The feedback ranged from ‘Top story with realistic characters, needing only a little more work’ to ‘ A lot more rework needs to be done on story plot points and character development’.

One of them was quite harsh and made me want to give up on my manuscript. But the other two had enough encouragement in their feedback to make me realise how subjective feedback is. I looked at the feedback received from the three judges and decided 66% of positive comments was enough for me to continue to take the relevant feedback on board and keep editing and learning.

As my confidence in my writing grew, I joined a critique group of four other writers. We met every fortnight on a Saturday afternoon from 1 to 5. It was an intense four hours of reading each others’ work, critiquing and receiving critique. I would recommend this to not only improve your own writing but also your ability to read with an editor’s mind.

After several rewrites and realising each time how much I had grown as a writer and yet still had even more to learn, I contracted a mentor for three months. I knew I needed a little more help to get my manuscript to a stage where I was 100% happy to submit it to agents. Working with Sandie Docker, an Australian author of multiple books, was the best decision and investment I have made in my writing career.

Sandie helped me see the potential in my novel but also provided invaluable feedback on improving the plot and fleshing out the characters. Just having someone who had read the entire story was helpful providing me with another writer to workshop sticky points and plot twists with.

Handling Constructive Criticism

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Many writers talk about their work as their babies and it’s hard not to.

But this way of thinking makes receiving critique impossible without it feeling like a personal attack.

Best stratey is to separate yourself from your writing during the editing process. Listen to the critique as if its someone else’s piece of writing being discussed. Be open to learning and improving it. Then go rewrite with your own passionate self immersed in your story again.

Hard, but it makes receiving constructive criticism a little easier.

Receiving feedback teaches you over time to develop your own ability to spot areas that need improving in your own writing. Like working a muscle. Over time it will build up and give you strength.

Utilizing Feedback Effectively

How does a novice writer make sense of so many differing points of views?Accept them all and change your story?

No, my advice is to thank each one and use the common threads that you see coming through from all the feedback. Eg, if they all tell you the main protagonist is weak then go work on this. If they tell you too much backstory then cut it out. You can sprinkle it in later if needed.

In the critique group, I would gather all the written and verbal feedback, go home and rewrite the sections I felt the majority of the group had advised to rewrite. Over time, I learnt what to ignore and what to take on board.

Each time my mentor and I met, she would provide me with a written summary. We would discuss this together to make sure I understood her comments and examples she had provided. I would then work on this in between our sessions. By Sandie only showing me a couple of examples, I learnt how to spot the rest in my writing.

An example could be an overuse of telling vs showing in a chapter and to fix this by using character actions instead of descriptive words.

Seeking Diverse Perspectives

This is so important.

Always make sure you show your writing to people who will give you honest feedback. That often means giving it to strangers or people you may not fully trust. It’s tempting to just give it to family and friends, but they will just give you the feedback that you want to hear not what you need to hear. Unless you have another writer in your family or circle of friends.

It can also help to gain feedback from someone in the same industry or setting as your story. For example, if writing a crime novel, get someone from the police force to read it. Even though it may be fiction, making it realistic will improve the story and the readers’ enjoyment.

Conclusion

Embracing feedback with a positive and open mind will propel you along as a writer a lot faster than being a lone know-it-all wolf.

I encourage any new writer to connect with other writers and join critique groups. It’s gruelling work but you will learn so much.

Go out there today and find yourself your writing tribe, your group of like-minded people who will be your teachers and your students alike. Even if your writing never improves to publishing levels, I believe your writing will get better. You will become a more resilient writer and you will make some great new friends along the way.

Happy writing, folks.

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