The previous post, “Tough Story Love—How to Give It,” proposed some strategies for offering substantive, helpful feedback on someone else’s written work. Suppose it’s your turn to receive your readers’ comments. Nervous? Right! But most workshop leaders set the tone and establish guidelines for feedback, so it's a pretty safe place to be. You can prepare yourself, though, to get the most from a critique setting and avoid squirming in the spotlight.
Here are a few tips:
Before you submit your manuscript: Make sure it’s as clean and error-free as possible. You want your readers to concentrate on substance. It's not their job to do your proofreading.
Be focused. The writer’s job is to take a deep breath and pay attention.
Listen. Jot down keywords or phrases to remind you later what was said. If you try to write down every word, you'll miss something important. Does a comment sting? Note it, move on. You’re there to learn as much as you can about what your trusted readers believe is working, what isn't, and why. If note-taking befuddles you, ask someone to take notes for you.
Bite your tongue. Many workshop leaders will ask writers to be silent until the end of the comments. Then you can ask questions.
Don't be defensive. Do you want a pat on the back? Or a stronger story?
Come to the writing partnership with your questions: Where are you stuck? Where do you get a feeling something's not working? You will have your own issues, and those issues will change from one project to the next. Get them out front.
Don't. Be. Submissive. Don’t expect your readers to "fix it," and don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to take advice that goes against your better instincts. Before deciding to follow someone's advice, put the story away for a while. Then pull it out and ask yourself, "Do I really want/need to do this? Will the story be better for it?" Drop your defenses, but don't roll over and play dead. Ultimately, the work belongs to you. Think about it and decide for yourself which advice to heed and which to ignore.
Remember: It isn't the reader's job to tell you what to do, although with specific problems, they might offer suggestions. Your reader's job is to ask questions of the text and respond to it with honest insight and knowledge of craft.
Reading and sharing each other's work is a partnership. At its best, it's a collaborative effort that makes the work stronger. So be brave. Be open to the possibility for change. Put your work out there!
What have you learned about receiving feedback that you'd like to pass on to writers who may not have had as much experience as you?
I’m indebted to Jack Rawlins’s The Writer's Way—as well as some great workshop leaders and lots of teaching experience over the years—for these tips.