Thursday, September 2, 2010


I have been thinking hard about feedback and how to handle it. If you are an unpublished writer and a member of the RNA this feedback is something you get used to it year in year out as a member of the New Writers Scheme (NWS). This scheme means that every year you have the opportunity to submit a manuscript to the scheme to be read by a published author. They give you feedback in the form of a report. If they really love it and think it is ready it gets put forward for a second read which means another author reads it and if they agree with the first the manuscript is forwarded to an agent or a publisher by the RNA. An instant introduction.

This year for the first year ever I actually managed to have a completed manuscript to send in and other than being the first YA novel they had ever had through the scheme I got my feedback very quickly. And this year I had some very good feedback. Things I can work with to take my book further.

But what happens when your feedback isn't what you've hoped for? This can happen through something like the NWS, from a critique partner, an agent or even a publisher. I think learning how to process not so great feedback is one of the biggest learning lessons of being a writer. My first NWS report was a stinker. The heroine was unsympathetic, the hero was wooden, the plot ridiculous but there was one grain in there which kept me going... I could write a kiss. Phew! But I do remember crying as I read the report. I remember throwing it across the room. I just about remember getting drunk at the pub. A few days later I picked it up again and read through it again. And this time I took it in. I understood that the report was exactly what I needed to see. I had a long way to go.

Over the years I have learnt more from having people comment on my work than I have from anything else. When someone highlights that one problem that you hoped you had hidden with sleight of hand and a fancy smokescreen and you have to admit to yourself that you still have a long way to go. Or to that wonderful feeling when someone tells you they loved something you wrote.

However I have heard some horror stories of people not dealing with feedback very well. Of sulks and temper tantrums. If you don't agree with what someone has said thank them politely and then ignore it.

Do you ask for feedback? What do you do if you don't agree with it?

Come back on Sunday when Susanna will be posting


  1. I too cried when I received my first NWS critique - it was 10 pages long and seemed very negative to me. Having re-read it recently though, I can see that the reviewer was absolutely right in everything she said and there was enough positive feedback for me to pick myself up and try again. I think that's the key - there has to be some praise, something that makes you feel that "yes, I can do this, I just need to change such and such". Before joining the RNA I once paid (a lot!) for a professional critique, which was all negative. That wasn't helpful at all because it didn't give me anything to work with. I binned it. Now I welcome critique from my writing buddies and if I don't agree with it, I'll just stick to my guns and leave that part in. It's good to remember that it's all very subjective, nothing is set in stone.
    Can't wait to read your YA novel, Biddy - love those!

  2. Feedback - the good or the bad is vital to me as otherwise I am writing in a vacuum. The negative feedback hurts like hell but through it I hope I have improved.

    The key thing that has happened throughout my wanting feedback and getting is learning to trust my inner voice - not the inner critic but the one who actually knows what is good and what isn't...I don't always listen but i should


  3. I think that's a great service to have available at your disposal (the NWS of the RNA). I would argue that most artists, whether writers or painters or musicians, have some trouble judging their own work - you're too close to it, having put so much of yourself into it, and the judgement is such a subjective thing. I swing back and forth on my assessment of my writing, depending on my mood that day.

    I attended a conference earlier this year where Robert J Sawyer gave the lunchtime address. His was one of the best parts of the day (and there were many), and he pointed out something similar - in receiving feedback, the only way to ensure you get completely honest feedback is to have your manuscript read by someone without any vested interest. So that rules out family, friends, coworkers, even writing partners because they know eventually the shoe will be on the other foot. But where does one go to find such a person outside one's circle of acquaintances?

    My sister is reading my manuscript. I know she's about as far from an unbiased reviewer as I might find (short of going to my mother), but I trust her to offer constructive criticism, even if it is tempered.

  4. Christina - Bad luck on the professional critique! I think it is all subjective unless there is something fundemental that many people are picking up on.

    Liz - I think listening to your inner voice is key. If you are swayed too much by other people you end up writing by committee and then the work becomes diluted.

    Seabrooke - It is hard to judge your own work but I think sometimes you do have that feeling of rightness when you just know (happens infrequently). But I agree it is hard to find someone without a vested interest, I would say almost impossible. I think the best you can hope for is someone who will try to be as honest as they can. I find it best to direct the person giving feedback to what it is I particularly want them to focus on... plot, characters, pace.

  5. I've learned to balance the need for feedback a little bit. At the beginning of my writing career, I asked for a lot of feedback at all stages of the writing process. But these days, I hold back until I've got something I feel ready to show, and I only show it to a few people, and sometimes only to my agent and editor, whose feedback I need. I guess I trust my inner voice a lot more.

    But I really value the great feedback I get from my critique partners, my agent and my editor. When you find someone you can trust, it's worth its weight in gold.

    It can take a long time to find the right person, though.

  6. Constructive ctiticism is so important, but the negatives, no matter how valid they might be, can be very hard to take, especially on the first read. I belong to a writing workshop and some of the feedback I have got has been very valuable. But you always have to consider the source. When I receive constructive criticism from someone whose writing I admire and /or whose judgement I respect, I will really take it to heart and study it objectively (as objectively as I can ;)). Other advice I know I can ignore, especially when the person giving the critique does not normally read the same genre. Posting anything close to romance on a writing site that is more geared to literary can garner a lot of negative feedback! It actually stopped a couple of my stories dead in their tracks, because I lost confidence in my writing and my vision. But I'm working through that.

    I have to agree with Julie that finding the right person to use as a sounding board is Key.