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So Your Feedback Session is Spiraling Out of Control

Hacks for Hacks (sense of humor required)

Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

You thought your story was ready to go. Sure, you ostensibly shared your story with your writing group so they could critique it, but on the other hand, shouldn’t they have recognized that their quote-unquote “feedback” would screw up your victory lap? How dare they slander your manuscript! Unrealistic characters? Boring exposition? Undecipherable symbolism? Yes, you may have written some elitist nonsense, but it was even MORE elitist of them to point that out!

For writers, these miscarriages of literary justice are as excruciating as they are universal. Like getting a vaccination, you should remind yourself that the pain you’re experiencing is fleeting, but ultimately it will make you stronger, and make you less likely to repeat the same mistakes in future works—mistakes like run-on sentences, infodumping, and not vetting members of your writing group more carefully.

So take a deep breath and gird your loins because I’m going to show you how to cope with a disaster feedback session.

Don’t argue.

Every reader is allowed to have their own opinion (check your writers group guidelines just to be sure, however). If a reader doesn’t like your story, that doesn’t make them wrong, it only makes them incorrect. When your story gets published, you can’t go to each reader’s house and explain things to them every time they misunderstand a plot point, so why would you think it’s a good idea to do so with your writing group? It’s a much better use of your time to nurse your grudge and shame them on social media when you finally sell your story to a publisher.

writing workshop [1]
photo by Timothy Vollmer

Show them respect (with emphasis on “show”).

Your beta readers took the time to read your story and offer their thoughts, and you can best show your appreciation by giving them your full attention, performatively if possible. Take copious notes of their comments, writing stern rebuttals to each as you smile and nod. Focus on keeping your fingers moving to distract you from the emotional distress of their horrific misreading of your work. If you have a laptop with a loud keyboard, your clackety note-taking may be able to drown out their nonsense.

Ask clarifying questions.

To get the most out of feedback, make sure that you fully understand it. Asking questions about reviewers’ comments can lend new insight to your story, as well as diffuse a tense situation by demonstrating that you take their input seriously. Wait until they’ve had their say, then follow up about any feedback you didn’t quite understand. For example:

You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel after asking reviewers to clarify exactly why they missed the point. If this seems like arguing, consider that no, it’s not.

Tough feedback sessions are never fun, but they’re less painful if you use these tools for getting through it. And once you make them part of your regular repertoire, comments like “This story didn’t work for me” transform into “Oh, um…yeah, it’s a fun piece,” or even better, “Yeah, sorry, I’m just too busy to read it right now.”

How do you get through a rough feedback session? Share your strategies in the comments!

About Bill Ferris [2]

After college, Bill Ferris [3] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.