In my last post I talked about “which types of readers to use for feedback,” covering the pros and cons of a weekly critique group, beta readers, specialty readers, and agents and editors. Knowing where to get feedback on our work is great, but what the heck do you do with it once you have it? It might sound like a straightforward question, but any writer gathering significant feedback knows how daunting it can be to face sorting through and implementing that critique.
The good news is that there is no one correct way to go through this process. The bad news is that there is no one correct way to go through this process. Every writer, every book, and every feedback resource will require different specifics. That freedom is liberating and, sometimes, a little overwhelming. In hopes of establishing a starting place, today I’m going to share my general outline of the steps I take to process and filter reader feedback. As with all writing advice, take what works for you and leave the rest.
1. Read Feedback
Step one is fairly easy straightforward: consume the feedback. If you’re reading notes, I highly recommend finding a private, quiet place so you can go at your own pace and so you don’t have to school your reactions. If you’re listening, and if your reader doesn’t have notes to hand you after they’re done talking, go ahead and take notes as they go (unless you can record or have a killer memory). Try to resist asking too many questions, especially if you’re new. Clarifying what someone means is fine, but you’d be surprised how easily that slips into justifying or defending our intentions instead. You can sort through that part later; for now, just listen and absorb.
2. Let Yourself Feel, Notice Your Gut
You might feel things as you listen. Some of them might even be bad feelings. That’s okay. Emotions are not only important, but biologically required. So don’t beat yourself up if you feel sad, disappointed, angry, scared, overwhelmed, etc. That’s all normal. (It’s also why I generally prefer to read feedback in private.)
Of course, if you’re in person you’ll probably be socially obligated to hide or subdue some of these feelings to seem “sane” and “professional.” (Bah.) Do what you must, but even if you have to bottle it up, I highly recommend letting it out later. Let it aaaaaaall out. Let it have free reign for a while—good and bad. Be excited, be intimidated, be whatever you need to be.
And more importantly, pay attention to what you need to be. To take every drop of romance out of it: emotional reactions are data. How we feel right away upon each particular piece of feedback is invaluable information for later, so stop trying to stymie it. Instead, let it happen and take a mental note. Pay extra attention to the things that make you the most defensive.