WEbook Guide to Feedback, Part 3: You’ve Got Feedback! Now What?


Congratulations! You followed the tips in Part 1
of the WEbook Guide to Feedback, about how to encourage fellow WEbookers to
weigh in on your writing. You read Part 2
(and, if you’re a poet, Part 2.5),
so the feedback you gave others was top notch. The
Golden Rule
is working, and you’re starting to get all kinds of feedback on
your WEbook work – and I do mean all kinds.

Now what? Depending on the feedback you’re getting, you
may feel like composing your Nobel Prize acceptance speech – or you may feel
more like breaking every key on your keyboard, burning your notebooks, and
crawling into a dark corner to cry. Heck,
you might feel like breaking every key on your keyboard, burning your
notebooks, and crawling into a dark corner to compose your Nobel Prize
acceptance speech.

Welcome to the wonderful world of
being a writer.

Unless you write only for yourself, or
possibly for a group of people who specifically agree not to provide criticism,
praise, or feedback of any kind, your readers will have opinions about your
work – and, especially if you go out of your way to seek them, by taking a
writing class, submitting your work to agents or publications, or posting your
writing on WEbook, those readers will tell
you their opinions. This can leave you
exhilarated, angry, encouraged, discouraged, irritated, happy, or downright
confused. Often, you’ll get conflicting
opinions from different readers, leaving you wondering how you’ll ever make
every reader happy.

Don’t despair. By following these handy rules, you’ll be
sure to get the most out of the feedback you receive.

The Rules of Receiving Feedback

1)  Know
Your Goals.
Before you can benefit
from feedback, ask yourself: What do I
hope to gain from sharing my work with others and asking for their
opinion? For many writers, the easy
answer is, “I hope to improve my writing.” However, this may not be the goal of every writer who goes looking for
feedback. Often, you may not be looking
for ways to improve your writing – instead, you’re more interested in getting
the encouragement you need to keep going, or a quick survey of readers’
responses to your work. These are perfectly
valid goals. But if you’re not honest
with yourself about what your goals are, you may set yourself up for

If you can
honestly say that you’re looking to improve your writing through feedback,
congratulations! You’ve taken a very
brave step. You may be able to distill
your goals even further – for example, you might decide you want to work
specifically on character development, or sentence structure, or plot – but sometimes
it’s enough to know that you want to make your work better, in general.

Keep in mind that
goals change. Your goal for one piece of
writing may not be the same a week later for a different project.

Warning! Avoid this common goal! I see this goal all the time in requests for
feedback on WEbook – I’ve even fallen prey
to it myself a few times. What is it? “I want someone to tell me whether I’m
good/have talent or not, so I’ll know whether to quit or keep writing.” Forget about it. Even if you spend the rest of your life
writing, and actually get a chance to compose that Nobel Prize speech one day,
no one will ever be able to tell you whether it’s worth your while. And if you really want to write, no one will
ever be able to permanently discourage you. The fact is, talent isn’t set
in stone. “Great” writers write lousy
books – or at least have lousy days – and “lousy” writers have moments of great
inspiration, and, with determination and elbow grease, produce good work. Don’t waste your time trying to determine
where exactly you fall on the talent scale. Instead, figure out what you want to accomplish with your writing, and
try to find ways to accomplish it.

2) Find the Feedback that Serves Your Goals. When you go looking for feedback, you’ll get
all kinds of responses, from all kinds of readers. Learn how to identify the feedback that helps
you achieve the goals you’ve spent so much time identifying. How do you do this? Easy! If you’re trying to improve your writing, ask yourself, “Can I learn
something from this feedback?” If you
still can’t tell, ask yourself a few more questions: “Do I respect this person’s opinion? Does this person follow the basic
rules for quality feedback
? Does
this person understand what I am trying to accomplish with this piece of
writing?” If you’re looking for
encouragement, ask yourself, “Does this feedback inspire me to keep writing?” If you want to know what readers think of
your work, ask yourself, “Do I believe that this person’s opinion is honest and
valuable?” If the answer to any of these
questions is no, ask your personal secretary to file that piece of feedback
under “Ignore.”

3) Never Complain, Never Explain. I don’t think Henry Ford, II was much of
writer, but he turned out a good quote. What does it mean when it comes to feedback?

Never Complain: When you get feedback that doesn’t serve your
goals, thank the feedbacker, get your personal secretary to file it under “Whatever,”
and move on. Remember: By posting your work on an open website, you
welcome comments from all kinds of people, operating at all different levels of
expertise, sensitivity, and even common courtesy. Even when it seems like someone has been
unforgivably rude (“He called my poem crap!”),
you can almost always chalk it up to the vagaries of contemporary internet
culture. Shake your head, allow yourself
one mournful “Kids these days,” and go along your way. There are exceptions – if someone’s feedback
violates WEbook’s site policies, it should be reported to abuse <at>
WEbook <dot> com. How can you tell
if someone’s feedback really crosses the line? Read the WEbook Terms of
(look for section 10), or ask yourself, “If someone said this to me in
public, would I call my lawyer?”

Never Explain: This is one of the most important rules of
receiving feedback. Do not, under any
circumstances, defend or explain your work to someone providing feedback. Your work must speak for itself. If you have to explain what you were “trying
to do,” it’s not speaking loudly enough. If a piece of feedback has passed the Rule # 2 test (that means it
serves your goals, for those of us with short attention spans), and you think your
reader doesn’t “get” something about your writing, this is a problem with the
writing, not the reader. This is
especially true if you hear the same kind of feedback from more than one
reader. Saying, “But I’m trying to make
Maury seem like the kind of guy who would cut up his wife’s underwear with nail
clippers,” is a waste of your time. Any
sentence starting with “But” is a waste of your time. If you really, truly don’t think your reader “gets”
your story – and you really, truly think it’s the reader’s fault – this means
his or her feedback doesn’t pass the Rule #2 test. Thank your feedbacker for his or her time,
have your personal secretary file it under “Nice effort, blockhead,” and go
make yourself a peanut butter sandwich.

4) Never Take it Personally. This is kind of the same as “Never complain,”
but it’s worth saying twice. Feedback
about your writing is not a personal indictment of your character, your worth
as a human being, or even – get this – your skill as a writer. It is about that particular piece of writing,
period. If a feedbacker makes it personal, have your secretary’s
secretary file it under “Fool, you don’t know
me!”, and start planning your next vacation to Fiji. (Personal attacks disguised as “feedback” are
not even worth your secretary’s time.)

5) Let it Marinate. After you’ve identified the feedback that
serves your goals, and had your secretary or your secretary’s secretary file
the rest, take a moment to let it all sink in. Don’t jump in and start fixing every little thing someone says needed
fixing. Instead, take a nice, long walk. Then come back and comb through all the
valuable feedback you’ve gotten. Classify the advice into broad categories. You’ll have to make up your own, depending on
what you wrote and the kind of feedback you got, but some examples
include: Character; plot; structure;
theme; and grammar and word choice. In
general, you should tackle big issues before getting down to the nitty
gritty. Why make your second sentence
absolutely perfect, if you end up cutting that sentence when you change the
story’s structure?

If you’re getting
continuous feedback through WEbook, you
may find it helpful to set aside a time – say, a week, two weeks, a month, or
whatever – to work on things like plot and structure, then another time for
working on character development, atmosphere, and setting, and yet another time
for ironing out the language. You, too,
can use the feedback field to chime in and let your readers know what kind of
feedback you’re looking for at the moment. If you do receive feedback on grammar while you’re working on the plot, file
it away for later. (Do it yourself –
your secretary deserves a day off.)

6) Know When to Say When. At some point, you may feel you’ve received
all the feedback you need, and done all the work you can. Congrats! Submit your work for
(WEbook’s next voting cycle opens on October 21), and get
started on your next project. If you don’t
get chosen for publication right away, don’t sweat it. You might come back to the project with fresh
eyes in a month or two, and radically improve it. In the meantime, enjoy your accomplishment!

Join WEbook Now!

Ready to get
feedback on your writing? Sign up for WEbook and watch
the comments roll in.

-- Melissa

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