The really enjoyable part of writing is writing. And reading. And letting other people read what you wrote. The less fun part is the seemingly endless job of editing and revising and getting feedback and editing and revising some more, then realizing that you changed this one thing so you have to change that thing too, then there’s this other thing that someone else noticed that you should also change or edit or clarify and then you die.
Editing and revising are just as important to good writing as writing itself is, but it often feels pretty overwhelming. Often, with earlier drafts especially, a writer doesn’t need any outside input. For myself, I usually do the first two or three revisions myself before even showing my work to other people. Then the feedback comes. Feedback usually feels like getting attacked. It feels like everyone hates you. It feels like you suck at your job and nobody appreciates the time and effort and imagination you put into creating something you love. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One thing writers need to remember when getting feedback, it’s not about you. It’s about the story. It’s about making the story the best possible story it can be. If feedback comes in the form of a personal attack, then pardon my language, but fuck that person! Seriously. (But not literally.) The good news is, feedback is hardly ever like that. At least, not until actual publication. The feedback I’m referring to is usually from people who know you. Who love you. Who respect you. Who like your work. And usually, they are right. ‘That sentence is confusing.’ ‘You didn’t think that all the way through.’ YOU CAN DO BETTER! That’s really the essence of this. You can do better. You just need help. Take that help, and make your work better. You do that, and it will shine!
Just a few things a writer needs to consider when getting feedback:
Feedback is really strange. For every seven readers you have, you get ten different opinions (sadly, I did not come up with that myself). This can inspire a number of thoughts. “Who is right? Is this person just a bad reader? Am I a bad writer? Who do I trust? Who can I trust? How do I know?” This is a very tricky relationship to navigate.
On the one hand, the customer is always right. In this case the customer is the reader. Another way to phrase this concept is burden of proof. It is the author’s job to prove to the reader that his/her writing is worthwhile. The reader bears no responsibility to like what the author writes. So authors, listen to your readers!
Of course, on the other hand, the author has the authority. If the author decides this thing does or doesn’t belong in his/her story, end of discussion. The author has absolute power over his/her work. And it’s important to remember, the author bears no specific obligation to readers either. If a reader doesn’t like something, it is not necessarily the author’s job to change it. And here’s the tricky part, sometimes readers are actually bad readers. No, it’s not their job to like a thing, but that doesn’t mean the thing is bad. Maybe they’re just not the right audience.
So who’s right? In the end, everyone. The most important thing for both readers and authors to remember is a work of art is subjective by nature. Everyone gets an opinion, and no person’s opinion is really more special or important or right than any other’s.
Finally, for those authors out there who are still scared of letting your work out into the world. If you are scared that people won’t like it. If you are scared of feedback. If you are unsure of your talents. Welcome to being an author. That feeling doesn’t go away. (But you’re in good company.)
Those last two RTs brought to you by a really happy author, who is nervous about both of the books he has coming out this year.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) May 24, 2013