Coping with Feedback and Criticism

Apologies guys and gals, I’ve been pretty lax recently. I wish I could say that writing is my priority – I want it to be, definitely – but life likes to throw curve balls. Call it destiny, fate, karma, chance or whatever. It happens.

It happened to me a few months back. I was made redundant, at just what I felt was the worst time as I had just about gotten out of most immediate debt and was making plans going forward. Well, those got scrapped.

Now, fast forward a couple of months and I’m working full time again. Brilliant. However, there’s more travelling and adapting to a new workplace and job and this takes time so while I’m trying to keep up, it’ll take a while until I’m back to ‘normal’ again.

A little inspiration

Before this all happened, I’ve been trying to get my novella out there and hopefully published. Needless to say, it hasn’t gone amazingly well so far. I’m not surprised by this – I expected it and if you read my post on dealing with rejection earlier this year, you’ll know that. If you haven’t, go back and it read it now.

I sent it out somewhere else over the summer thanks to a friend who pointed me to it. With everything that’s been going on, I completely forgot about it but when a reply came, it actually gave me a little hope!

Receiving feedback

Now, I’ve done a post last year on group feedback but I want to go a bit further, and look at this in a different way here.

Whenever I submit my novella I always ask for feedback. Sometimes you’re told not to but if you don’t ask then you don’t get and this time it paid off. Despite the fact that this was, in essence, another rejection it didn’t actually matter. Receiving a reply is good because you get closure on that particular submission but getting feedback means I have something a bit more concrete to go on.

So, what was I told? Well, the first point was the topics that I’m writing about are “really interesting and certainly meaty enough for novel material” and that is a huge boost. While not everyone will like everything, knowing that is like a fundamental thumbs up for what I’m working on. Now, I’ve been doing this as a novella, as I feel it’s a lot sharper and more concise but the “novel material” comment has opened up a whole new can of worms.

I COULD make this into a novel but would I be able to carry over the tension and emotion through an entire book? That’s an interesting idea – and what about my ending? Would that work or would I need something else.

What I need to work on, in this person’s opinion, is making things less explicit and letting the reader, you, figure it out for yourself. That is something I generally agree with but in this case, I’m wondering if I’ll lose part of the character by doing so as he is quite direct and the novel is from his point of view.

There are a few other points but I’m keeping those to myself. You get the idea, however.

Reacting and dealing with it

Dealing with feedback and criticism can be hard at times. When you’ve spent hours, days, months, weeks – maybe even years – on a project, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, a piece of art, music or anything else, the last thing you want to admit to yourself is that there are things wrong with it.

That’s a natural response.

To really improve though, that outside perceptive is essential. I have a couple of people I can count on to proof what I’m doing and offer feedback but even then, I have to weigh up what they say with what I feel, want and know. It’s a hard balance to find.

When an expert gives you advice and feedback, you have to grab it with both hands and really think about it. For every sentence, note, brushstroke or whatever it is you use to create your masterpiece, compare it with what they say. They’re an expert for a reason and if you want to be one, you need to learn from them.

The problem isn’t getting over your pride, though; it’s getting over your fear.

The fear that by editing it further, especially based on the words of someone else, that your project becomes less what you wanted and more of what someone else thinks. You lose the core or essence of what you are trying to achieve. It ceases to be what you want and becomes something else.

It’s incredibly hard and by denying we do this, we give it more power. It’s another wall we don’t need to put up but it’s almost instinctual for any creative person to make sure that we can identify with our work, that others can too and that it represents the best of what we can do in that moment.

Deep stuff, huh?

So, what’s the answer?

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have an answer to that. I’m not sure I ever will.

What I do know is that one person’s opinion doesn’t mean that you should abandon everything you think or feel. What I do know is that sometimes there are people who know more about what you’re trying to do than do you. What I do know is that you need to be able to adapt to anything that happens, in life, love, work – anything.

I’m not saying that I’m going to change my entire novella based on one person’s feedback but I have to take on-board what I’ve been told. I’ve gone to them because they’re the expert and I’ve been fortunate enough to get some real advice. I’d be a fool not to consider everything carefully before going forward, right?

Sounds like a good life lesson in general, if I’m honest.

‘Till next time!

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Group Feedback is an Important Part of Our Writing

Sure, there are times when you may work in a group to get some writing done – whether that’s for ideas or actually scribing and contributing or something else entirely doesn’t matter – but for the most part, writing is seen as a solo activity. This is something most writers accept, we know we’ll be sat in front of a screen or notepad for long periods of time, probably with plenty of snacks, coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes or whatever other vice we succumb to.

There are times, however, that we could use outside help. Getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over our work can help us find the most obvious mistakes, as well as the most hidden problems.

Finding feedback

You can look at the same sheet of paper or page of text all you want, but chances are you’re going to miss something. I’ve always found that unless I’ve given myself enough of a break between edits and redrafts, I can’t spot the mistakes that are glaringly obvious all the time. Fresh eyes can help, and for those times when you don’t have time to wait, other people are a great choice if you trust their editing skills.

I know a fair few writers now, thanks to social media platforms such as Twitter and, of course, my university course, where I met a great number of talented writers. Thanks to them, I was able to grow a lot. It took a while to get the brutally honest feedback I like, but it proved invaluable when it arrived.

I’m always welcome to this criticism for my work. It helps me grow but it has to be positive and constructive, otherwise it’s just someone attacking you (or your work) with no benefit. This is a fine line for some people and this is why writing groups are useful.

Writing groups

I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a number of writing groups over the years. Some have been great, others haven’t been as worthwhile. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as putting in what you want to get out as you’re relying on others but if you find a good group of people, even if you don’t see each often or in person, then you’ll get more honest feedback – and that’s key.

Most writers I’ve met have some form of ego – that’s not a bad thing, we need it. To be successful, we’re going to receive a lot of rejection and criticism and it won’t all be positive. That ego will help us keep going but it’s important to keep it in check and use it to help ourselves and other writers, not act superior to others and put them down. If you find a writing group that does that, then walk away and find another.

These groups can help you meet people, you’ll gain inspiration and grow as a writer and a person. They’re not to be missed and the thing is, they’re everywhere! They’re hard to find but once you do find them, you’ll see the benefits very quickly.

My big tip; try not to be shy about your work – we’ve all been there.

Other resources to consider

There are two great resources that I’d like to share with you guys.

The first is Writers & Artists, which has a number of services that can be of assistance should you want to make use of them. If you don’t, or the money isn’t there, then there is a fantastic community with regular blogs and articles that can help you get the most out of your writing. These are both informative and enjoyable and will give you an idea of what to look out for from real writers who have been or are in similar situations. Joining the community lets you answer questions, share experiences and help others too. Finally, they run fantastic competitions which are always worth checking back with.

The next resources is one I’ve only discovered fairly recently, so I’m still exploring it’s features and getting to know it better but what I’ve seen is very interesting! It was recommended to me by a recent Twitter acquaintance so I’m passing it on.

It’s called WritersCafé and is another community that is great for getting feedback on your work. You can post full pieces or snippets at various stages, include notes and allow others to review it and offer suggestions and feedback. These people don’t (or will rarely) know you so you can expect honest feedback and by doing the same, you can improve your skills in this area and meet new people. It’s a win-win all around.

Hope these can be of some help to you, guys!

The Trials of Redrafting

As a writer, I find the process of redrafting tedious at best. This is something that not even university has been able to make me enjoy, and when I delivered workshops, it was the hardest thing to get people to do. Writing can be fun and interesting but redrafting, while necessary, can be dull – especially on your own or working on your own piece.

The myths and barriers of a full redraft

In a workshop environment, a redraft can be engaging; it can spark a conversation or debate and it can bring out more ideas and thoughts that you never even considered. The problem is, for much longer pieces of writing, it’s not practical to be in a large group. Even if you have time to read it all, either in the session or in advance, it’s not fair on everyone.

That being said, they are incredibly useful and if you return the favour outside of a workshop environment, you can get some great insight into your work and even your plans for it going forward.

Now, I have nothing against e-readers and kindles. The world is going digital and people like the access. I much prefer reading paper (but I am definitely a fan of typing electronically – it saves me on paper and makes it easier to make changes or fix mistakes) and this includes m redrafting process. I do the best work after printing the piece, annotating in pen or pencil and making the changes electronically.

Running workshops with students and school groups is fun and challenging but the redrafting stage is one of the hardest ones to deal with successfully. Younger groups get bored easily but workshops can also be difficult because not everyone will feel comfortable speaking up or giving their work to someone else – and friends aren’t always honest (or are sometimes honest without tact). So what do you do in this situation?

With a school group, speak to the teacher in question. They know the group better and can give you some advice on how they think and work. If there is an end goal or event for them, give them examples of what others have done – or even your own redrafting efforts – to let them know what they should be looking for but it should be appropriate for the age group you are working with. Older groups will do it because you ask, mostly, but in the end, this process will go beyond your workshop and it is down to each participant to do it and get the most out of you, your session and your experience.

The risk of refinement

One thing that I commonly find is that a redraft, of any length or depth, can dramatically alter the piece of writing – hopefully for the better. The problem is that any amends can change the flow of the story, and that’s something I value highly in all my writing. I’ve given up on too many books because they don’t flow and I don’t want my writing to suffer the same fate, so if something doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t get saved or is reverted to the previous version that worked.

Now, in the moment, the story or piece flows because it came straight from your flow of thoughts. It might not make much sense at first but it can also be crystal clear at times. You can improve the sentence structure, tone, style or plot later but that will alter the flow. It takes a long time to get used to it, and no matter how much experience you have, we’ve all come to that infamous wall that takes us an age to climb over.

Once you make it over, not only does it get easier to redraft and refine the piece, but the results are better. Your confidence grows and that makes your work better. Giving yourself a break from the piece will help you see it with fresh eyes – not that there’s always time for a break, especially if you are studying or working to tight deadlines.

A blast from the past

It’s been over ten years since one of the most important pieces I’ve ever produced was “finished.” Over the next few months, I’m going to redraft the piece titled The Honour of Dying is No Honour At All and see how it compares to my younger self. While I fully expect to improve on the use of language, tone and setting, I’m very curious as to the flow of the story. How will I change it after all this time? I’ve always said I wouldn’t but I think that enough time has passed for me to give it a shot. Maybe I’ll do it again in another ten years – it could prove to be a good way to measure my skills and abilities. Watch this space to see how it goes!