what do you do when feedback confounds you?

Many of you have blogged about how being part of a critique group can at times challenge you to remain true to yourself as a writer. I had never experienced that. I had been able to take feedback that I was in accord and implement it, and I was able to discard feedback that I knew just didn’t agree with my style, voice, whatever you will call it.

Last week, at my meeting, I left thoroughly confused. I received some feedback that I’ve been mulling over since. Some feedback that if I implement will change my work and it will no longer be my own. I came to this understanding by doing two things. The first was to write. Not re-write! Just to write. I haven’t been steadily writing (being soooo sleep deprived and in a house were not a day does not go by where at least one member is not sick! Any other moms of young kids go through this? Any tips?? And how about how to get baby to sleep? third child – you’d think I know this by now!).

Mommy rants aside, I was not in tune with myself as a writer. So I wrote, to remind myself of who I was, to find my voice and my style. It was a very simple thing. Really all I needed to do was write. Once that was done, I began to think about my novel. What was it about? Where is it going? What ‘s the theme, the message? And in this particular case how do I want it portrayed?

I knew all these answers. This is no new novel after all, I’ve been at for some time. The feedback that would emphasize these elements in my novel, bring them out, make them shine, well that’s definitely feedback to use. But the feedback that would change it? I have to dismiss it. That’s not to say that writing is static in any way. From conception to what we decide is final product massive changes are undergone. Yet, we remain true to the heart of the story.

I love my group, and all this wouldn’t change that one tiny bit. Without them I wouldn’t have undergone this challenge that made me more certain about who I am as a writer. It was during this same meeting that talk about moving one of my scenes gave rise to the creation of a new opening scene in my mind as I drove home. One I became very excited about. Even if it changes again and again and again.

How about you? Is this something you’ve ever struggled with?

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24 thoughts on “what do you do when feedback confounds you?

    • Makes sense, Cathryn. I’ll see if I can filter in that way. We are such a diverse group, I wonder how many of us truly get each other’s work. Yet, given the individuals I have always thought that the fact we are so diverse is an advantage. It offers a wider range of feedback, since most of us can read with the idea superimposed that we are reading something we would normally read.

      • Thanks, Cathryn! whenever I get frustrated I just take take stock of my reality right now, and remind myself of exactly that – 3 youngens….
        WRiting keeps me grounded in myself, something so necessary with the needs of those 3 young ones, and the blog keeps me connected. Happy mom makes a happy home 🙂

  1. I’ve never belonged to a critique group—geography playing a big part in that.

    I’m sure by this time you are confident enough in your writing abilities to trust your own instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

    I don’t think it matters how many babies we have each one is different with their own personality. It will get better. I’m amazed that you are finding time to write and to blog at all. Sometimes we become so engrossed in being a mommy that we forget the other things that are importan to us…I’m glad you’re doing some things for you!

    • Thank you, Laura. Finding little tid bits of time for myself enable me to be fully present with my family, Laura. Crucial when they are so young and so demanding of time and energy. My husband keeps reminding me that this non sleep is a faze that will pass, and it will, but it’s tough going.
      At times that writing confidence lags, Laura, especially when time passes between writing sessions. But, I see that at least it’s been set enough that it seems to come back easy enough 🙂

  2. It has. A few months ago, I shared the beginnings of a story with a crazy narrator. She wasn’t dangerous crazy, just starting to succumb to paranoia that she was “evil” and hearing things that people said to her wrong. The twist was that maybe the new people in her life were really out to get her. A few of the people in my writing group saw the character as joking about the thoughts she was having, etc. versus getting she was a little off. They wanted me to hammer home her mental state, which I thought would skew the story focus too much and make her character not as lighthearted. I agree with Laura that trusting your own instincts is the way to go.

    • Thanks for the comment, Barbara! Amazing how one story receives so many different interpretations. I see it over and over again in my group. Reader participation. In the end it’s all what we want to portray and our writerly instincts are most important.

  3. I agree with Cathryn. You need to discern the members who “get” your story and give their feedback the most weight. I suppose , at least some of the time, all writers are guilty of giving feedback based on how they would write it. When I get advice I’m not sure about, I use Word comments to enter it as a possible change, and then I think about it later.

    • I think so too, Linda. It’s difficult giving feedback as well that is not skewed in that way. It’s a fine balance between reading as a reader and as a writer. If I think about it too much I get nervous and wonder how in the world can I give anybody any feedback at all? lol. I suppose here too, instinct comes into play.

  4. I’ve never found a critique group that I fit into and now it’s geographically impossible. So I can’t say much about that. But the one thing I’ve noticed about them is that you need to take everything said with a grain of salt. Too many readers critique pieces of work upon how they think it should read, also there are those writers that look down upon certain genres as not being as serious or worthy of time (the reasons I left my last critique group). But the one thing I do when I get something back from a beta reader or editor is look over all their suggestions and decide whether they have merit to the work. Sometimes they have a good point. Other times not so much.

    As for the baby, every child is different. But the one thing I noticed with my youngest was if she took a nap after 3pm or didn’t get up before 4pm she didn’t sleep good during the night. Also keep them active during the afternoon hours and they’ll sleep the whole night through. It might sound strange if the baby isn’t moving much on their own, but the more stimilation they get before bed, the better they sleep. Neither of my kids really took a nap after 18 months old which meant they slept most of the night through.

    • I think any writer that is asking for feedback should be taken seriously, Stephanie. I find it very upsetting that it’s not so!

      Thanks for the input about baby. We’re pretty busy, too busy sometimes that a late nap does occur and even a short 15 minute one throws him off. Trying to avoid those. My middle child, my daughter stopped napping by 1 and she was certainly not sleeping through the night. NOne of my guys ever took long naps (45 mins MAX) and I realize they are just not the sleeping bunch….

  5. I think you’re right to dismiss the feedback that would change your work so that it’s no longer your own. That’s not to say that your critique group is wrong, it’s just that there is more than one way to skin a cat. In time you’ll find your own solution that addresses whatever issue the group was concerned about while still remaining true to your story and your vision.

    • Sometimes, Helen, it can be difficult to stay on course. So many external stimulations. Reading a book, and I’ll wonder if I’ll be influenced and mimic. You are right about it, if patient our own way becomes clear. Thanks

  6. I never dismiss criticism or comments because all readers are critics and you need to appeal to at least one or two; but I never take it too seriously or too personally either. In my heart I know I am the only one who can write what I want to say in the way that I want to say it. Writers crave feedback, which is only natural because writing can be very lonely. To do it well you have to spend long hours on your own. But if you haven’t got an inner core of confidence and the determination to express your unique vision, then your work will fizzle out long before you have shaped into into a publishable form. So resist criticism. Do it your way. But try to understand why they said what they did.

    • Thank you Joseph for this reply. You said so much here- great advice. Understanding the feedback is most important. Regardless of agreeing or not that alone furthers ones understanding of the craft. I think in my particular case not having a lot of time to devote to writing has been hampering my confidence. I’ve begun spending time each day thinking about the craft. Not the same thing but enjoyable and I am surprised at how much there is to mull over. Thanks again, Joseph

  7. I still have yet to take the plunge and join an official feedback group so my advice comes out of nowhere – no matter what they say it is and will always be your work. If you like it a certain way then trust that instinct. That’s what makes your voice unique.

    • Thanks, Jodi. It’s all a learning curve, this craft. Every time I think I understand the rules, new knots present themselves. If you ever do join a group (and I highly recommend it – but only if it’s the right fit!!!) remember what you said to me here!

  8. Hi, interesting post. I tend to shy away from change in the story, preferring to work with old material, but at the moment I’m rewriting almost from scratch. I think groups help, but I’ve decided to go it alone with the writing. When I met the editor last year, she more or less said that only I can deal with my story. Best wishes…

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