There is a difference between helpful and constructive feedback and pretentious condescension. Learning where the line lies is one of the most valuable lessons you can achieve as a writer.
And I still struggle with it.
You’ve finished your work, and hopefully have revised to your writer heart’s satisfaction. To the point where you dread looking at your manuscript like I dread going to the gynecologist every year. It is the best you can make it without outside help.
And trust me, you need outside help.
Our stories do not exist in a vacuum unless all you ever do is shelve them in a safe, throw away the key, and drop that safe in the Mariana Trench. Stories are meant to be told, meant to be read or heard, and to do that people must read your stories. And I can guarantee you that your work is not perfect and clear and easy to follow on the first try.
So you’ve drummed up the courage to finally put your baby into someone else’s hands. Maybe you’re friends, maybe it’s a writing community site or group, maybe it’s a stranger you found on Twitter.
No matter what—KUDOS TO YOU, YOU MAGNIFICENT BEAST.
Letting people you may not know in real life, and often have no idea of their critique style, tear your book baby apart is fucking brave. And it deserves recognition.
Now, time passes until finally you get those pages back marked up all to hell. Sentences have been cut, your darlings erased, your word choice called into question, and who knows what else.
Read through the comments and then close the document or put it away. Don’t touch your manuscript. Let the feedback sit. Ruminate over it. You are allowed to REEL AND REAR AND BEAT YOUR FISTS UPON YOUR CHEST IN ANGER.
Wade through the bullshit.
Because there will be bullshit. I traded chapters with a stranger, and it was an absolute shit show. This person made 90 comments on one chapter, mansplained my book back to me, and often gave generally bad writing advice.
Out of the 90+ comments, I took about 4 under consideration. The rest were contradictory to my plot, conveyed a gross misunderstanding of the definition for exposition, encouraged unnecessary backstory, or were generally mean-spirited.
And you need to be able to tell the difference.
There are people who encapsulate the stereotypical English major who spouts contrived literary theories in class discussions and loves to hear the sound of his own voice. There are people who don’t understand the craft and are still fumbling their way through learning. There are people whose comments will spark a racing need to revise right now.
Those are the people and comments you need to listen to.
Maybe your writing has some hard-to-hear flaws, but someone who can point those out to you and spark a fire under your ass to fix them, all the while with excitement burning in your chest—that’s someone you want to hold onto.
Pick and choose what feedback to follow.
The best news of this entire post: you don’t have to take any feedback if it doesn’t jive with you. This is where wading through the bullshit comes in handy.
That 90+ comment critique? I threw it in the trash (on my computer because who uses paper much anymore?). I applied the ~four comments that resonated with me and then tossed the document because I didn’t want to look at it ever again. The sight of it made my stomach sink to my toes. It made me question my abilities as a writer. It made me ignore the almost ten beta readers who said my story was unputdownable.
If feedback makes you feel like less than a person and less than a writer, then it’s a sure sign it must be ignored.
Even if they had some good points, there are ways to point them out without making you feel like a piece of shit. And if these are real problems in your manuscript, and you’re using multiple critique partners or beta readers because YOU ARE, AREN’T YOU?, then someone else will most likely point out the same problem. When 2+ people do so, then it’s a signal to sit up and listen.
Apply what fits your story, your style, your voice, and chuck the rest.
The whole point of getting feedback is to make your story better and receive guidance for revisions. So do it! Crack your knuckles and dive in.
Ain’t nobody can do it but you.