Reacting to Feedback: Separate Problems from Solutions
I’ve had the honor of working with some phenomenal writers lately. Score one for living the dream. I’m happiest when I’m swimming in story.
One of the things that I notice, even among the excellent, is that incorporating feedback can be a challenge for writers. Not every reader is going to have the same opinion, plain and simple. But you asked for it, so what are you going do with it when you get it and it isn’t quite plug-and-play?
One thing many exceptional writers have in common? They’re great listeners and keen observers. These skills help them construct believable characters, snappy dialogue and well-crafted narratives, regardless of the genre. But it can be tough to be so sensitive to stimuli when it comes to feedback, particularly if it comes from more than one respected source and not everybody agrees.
Illustration by Olivia Bloom
I have been chatting about the creative process with my talented filmmaker daughter frequently of late. Score another one for living the dream.
Recently, she dropped some insight about the feedback conundrum that resonated with me. I tried it out on some talented writers and they agreed.
Separate the Problems from the Solutions
It goes something like this:
1. What Are the Problems? Pay close attention to what your early readers and reviewers point out. A word, a scene, a sentence, a sequence, a character arc, an image — whatever it is. You asked bright, thoughtful people to spend time with your work. Even if you’re a little butt hurt because something you committed to may not have landed, don’t throw out this valuable information. Noodle on it.
2. What Are Suggested Solutions? Some great readers, editors & reviewers are going to posit a better way. They believe it when they tell you that for them, the reference to onions should be shallots or the conflict between the characters should be around gender politics, not financial inequality. But those aren’t just problems; they’ve baked in the solutions.
Even if your readers, editors or reviewers are award-winning somethings or the smartest people you know, that doesn’t mean that their solutions are the right ones for you work. You have to be the one to decide.
You know that age old argument you have with your best friend, parent, child or partner? The one where they keep coming back with, “then why don’t you try telling your boss that you’re unhappy” or “how ‘bout you gratitude journal,” when all you really want is to be heard?
Let that feeling, the one we have all had, be your guide.
You aren’t asking your reader, reviewer, or editor to solve your problem. It’s more than enough if they gave you an honest assessment of what that problem might be.
The onion clunked.
I didn’t believe they were really fighting about money.
That’s enough! Take the money and run.
The Best Readers Take Notice
Smart readers who are willing to take the time to immerse themselves in the world you’ve created are invaluable. They will see things you may not see and think of things that you might have overlooked. They deserve your respect and gratitude. Big time.
If they saw something, address it. Meet their gaze and take notice too.
But you are the fixer of your own wagon.