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Monday, January 11, 2010

How to Handle Feedback

"Consider the comment, then consider the source."

Mom told me that. It's good advice. First consider what is said. Is it true? Is it helpful? It is something you can change? If those answers seem to be "no," consider who said it. Is that person a friend, an enemy, or an objective observer? If it's someone who might actually know what he's talking about, go back and reconsider the comment. If he's not trustworthy, don't sweat it.

I tend to reverse those phrases.

If I don't trust the source, why would I trust the comment? I wouldn't expect to get advice about brain surgery from a hot dog vendor. Although, in today's economy...

If I ask for the comments, that's one thing. I never ask questions I don't want answered. It's one of my personal rules. I must consider such comments, not the source.

But if the comments are just offered, then, you betcha I'm going to consider the source first. Who is this person? Are they qualified to make such remarks? Does the comment have merit in its own right? Those sorts of questions. Otherwise I would spend my entire life shaping myself to anybody's opinions. That's not a good use of my time.

As far as feedback and my writing are concerned, right now my book is given with the understanding that my readers will comment. That means I expect people to say whatever they want about my story, even if I don't want to hear it. That's tough for some nice people, but I mean what I say. I want to know about the problems while I can fix them.

Here's how I do it.

When I get that email (most comments are by email at this point), I read it for all the good stuff first. That makes me happy. It's good to start happy.

Then I read all the "bad" stuff - the questions, the confusion, the grammar corrections or sentence restructuring. I consider these one by one. Do they improve the writing? Do they highlight a weak spot? If someone took the time to comment, (usually) it means it was a problem for them. How many other readers will be bothered by that same issue?

This is hard, but the trick is to focus on the writing, not your sense of self-worth. As long as the comments are about the writing, you can do this. It's about skill improvement.

Now, the moment comments stray into "I can't believe you were dumb enough to write it this way," I would be done. I've never gotten comments like that, by the way, but I would never consider them if I did. That's a "source" issue and that source would be off my list (I've got hundreds of people dying to abuse me!).

If I don't have a specific reason for the writing being that way, 9 times out of 10, I'll change it. Why wouldn't I? Pride? I asked for this comment. How arrogant do I have to be to ignore it just because it doesn't make me happy?

Now, I won't change everything, not even for the guy giving me a paycheck. At some point, it's time to be done with changes and just write another book. But most comments don't want another book. They just want this one to be a little better. We all want that.

Then I go back and read the happy stuff again. In fact, those are the parts I'll read and reread
whenever I get discouraged. Those are the parts that keep me going through the hard parts.

So that's my process for analyzing feedback. A big thank-you to all my readers. I do consider all of you excellent sources.

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