Feedback is the breakfast of champions. We grow to the extent we can integrate what’s helpful into our craft.
That’s not always easy. Our blood pressure goes up when the manuscript comes back from the editor. We feel our stomachs churn when we open a long tome from a beta reader. And few things ruin a day more than a one-star review.
But all these things can show us the way to improvement if we can parse what’s helpful and throw out the other stuff.
Here’s how. Look for commonalities. Are we spending too much effort on exposition? Are we slipping to tell vs show? Is our dialogue moving the story forward? Are our characters compelling? Do they each have their own story arc? Do the first and last scenes in each chapter make the reader want to keep turning the pages?
These are the fundamentals of excellent storytelling. In the heat of creating our barf drafts, we are so into details that it’s easy to forget to pull back and evaluate our work from a distance.
This is what editors and betas are good at. They may not always be able to articulate their sensitivities well. We must learn to decode the meaning and find the common threads.
I keep an Evernote page for every book project I’m working on. As I digest feedback, I’ll write down what feels like the developmental message and read my stuff again through that lens. Is it valid? What do I change?
And what about the nasty stuff? It would be nice if all input came from self-actualized humans who understand the power of supportively stated input. But everyone comes with their own set of communication tools. If we can peel back what may sound negative, there may well be diamonds among the dirt.
In my business incarnation, I appreciated praise. But I always learned from the unhappy. Anyone willing to go to the trouble of giving you criticism, constructive or not, is giving you a gift. Ponder it. Integrate what’s useful and toss the rest. Receive it in “third person” and don’t let it chip away at your self-esteem.
Learn this skill and your stories will improve with each new telling.