There is a reality in the world of science and technology known as a feedback loop. This is that incredibly annoying screech from a microphone when someone first starts talking into it, before they turn their volume down. It’s painful, but it has a very simple cause and effect. You speak… your words flood out of the speaker… the sound of your voice, amplified by the speakers, reaches the microphone and is feed back into the system and out again, and again… and all we end up hearing is white noise, followed by banging and grunting as someone reaches for a knob and adjusts it, then the sheepish “sorry”.
Of course if you’re a rock band, feedback is welcome, preferred, and sought after. What would Pete Townsend sound like without distortion and feedback? They’ve harnessed it and made them work for them.
Also if you’re a writer.
I think we, as writers, love to pretend we are these special, fragile creatures who are anxiety ridden. This is true. What is lost in that trope is the realization that EVERYONE is a bundle of fear, worry, and anxiety. I don’t care if you’re a meek little follower, or a ginormous dick of an alpha leader, you suffer from the some concerns as everyone else. Anyone who tells you they do not every feel fear when they are sharing themselves with strangers is absolutely lying to you, you can count on that.
Sure, they might have grown confident in what they are doing. That motivational speaker who seems so poised, so commanding on stage, might truly not have the same concerns they had ten years ago when they first started giving their speeches. That’s what happens over time and with practice, you grow confident in what you are doing. But the first time they stood in front of a crowd and gave a speech? Totally pissing their pants in fear. And if they decide to leave the comfort of that well trodden, practice, understood text and focus on a new topic? They’ll be less scared than that first time, but they’ll still be nervous. How will the audience react? Will this reach them? What if it fails? Only after many times of doing the same thing and understanding the dynamics of audience reaction have the become the guru you think they are.
Feedback, beyond microphones, is welcome. Everyone needs it and deserves it. Writers may be, on the whole, a more introverted group of folks than others and especially prone to reacting poorly to harsh criticism, but feedback is what makes us better and improves our writing. You will not improve without a group of fair but tough critics working with you to help you get better. Stiffen your spine and see it as a learning opportunity.
I had two excellent beta readers early on in my writing development, Lyndsey and Jennifer. They had different styles of reviewing the work and giving critiques. Jennifer was the no-nonsense, balls to the wall, tear it apart and let’s use our technology to rebuild it, type of reviewer. It never felt like she was rude, though, simply the type of person who got straight to the facts with no bullshit, which I admired. She was the first to teach me about killing adverbs, advice which I took to heart. Lyndsey took a more organic, whole approach to things and would see the big picture, the broad brush strokes that would improve a work. She understood plotting and theme, and her ideas always revolved around how to improve the whole structure (and she’s a hella funny writer, too). I wouldn’t be where I am today without the two of them, and they have my eternal thanks and gratitude. I owe them much, and I’m pretty sure I took more than I gave back.
Now I feel like I’m on the cusp of something with SUMMER. The early critiques of the work were incredibly helpful, and hiring a professional editor has really helped me see the overall big picture of the work and improve it further. I worried when I got her developmental notes back I would cringe and feel pissed off, because like most folks that’s how we react to criticsm. Instead, I found an instant “oh my god, she’s right” feeling surging through me, which was great. It was a positive feeling, not a negative. I had work to do to further edit the novel, and I was excited about it. I’ve spent many of my free hours this week pursuing those changes, and it’s never once felt like work (well… when I ripped out twenty thousand words that felt like work, but nothing else).
I can say the same thing about queries. My response over the past few months as I worked and re-worked the query was initially “fuck this shit, what the hell are they talking about.” I cringed every time I got results back, because I hated what I was hearing. But they were right. Once I settled down, got over my disgust (which, when I examined it, was really anger at myself for “getting it wrong”, combined with the fear of sharing myself in the first place), I tore apart query after query to understand what was going on. I finally broke it down and ended up with the query that you can see on the Works in Progress page here.
The results from the new query have been really positive. I think I finally now have a query that’s worthy of the novel itself. And the novel is better, tighter, and… yeah, I’m feeling really good about things right now. Combine that with the new car I picked up yesterday (so long, Scion… hello, Hyundai!), and life is pretty good.
Positive feedback… it’s a good thing, even if it blows out your speakers. Seek it out, bathe in it, absorb it, and then work on your changes. Don’t fear it. Don’t be angry at it. It’s important to improving your writing and your chances at being published.