by Annie Cronin Romano
For writers, receiving constructive feedback is one of the key factors to editing and revising our work. We join critique groups, participate in online manuscript swaps, and sign up for professional editing services. Sometimes even editors and agents we've submitted to will provide feedback. They might indicate what didn't work for them or offer suggestions. All this feedback is fodder for the revision file. We cull through it, often using trial and error, to figure out which suggestions improve our manuscripts and which don't.
But once in a while, we get harsh feedback, an unfavorable critique, which strikes a nerve. A deep nerve. And it stings. Those manuscripts are our babies and we are protective of them. A negative analysis can make us question our story or even our writing talent as a whole. This is usually because the critique was not helpful and constructive. So what do you do when you receive feedback that's not presented in a beneficial manner? How can you turn that disappointment at a poorly presented critique into a positive step on your writing journey?
A few months back, I received a detailed, yet rather harsh, rejection following a submission. It was clear the agent had read the full manuscript, which was excellent. But the criticism, helpful as I’m sure it was intended to be, was delivered in a off-putting way. It was a list of I didn’t like a, b, and c. By the end of the letter, my novel was bloodied and beaten. At least to me. I couldn’t be objective, and my writer spirit was crushed.
Enter one of my amazing writing group ladies, Kelly. She read the letter, sympathized with me, and then, in a magical, extraordinary way, helped me turn the criticisms into constructive advice. She turned every “I didn’t like…” into “Try doing ‘x’.” She translated each negative into a positive, helpful piece of advice. In doing so, Kelly enabled me to use the rejection as a revision tool rather than a reason to give up on my story.
Sometimes you will get critiques, or even unexpected submission feedback, that is poorly delivered. Rather than being useful, it may come across as rough and disparaging. Get out your magic wand, or favorite pen, and invert the negatives into positives. Turn the "I don't likes" into "It might work better if..." Hopefully you're blessed with those who can provide you with constructive feedback that is beneficial to both your manuscript and your growth as a writer. But if you get one of those "tear apart" reviews, take a deep breath and step away for a bit. Then take a step forward and turn those negatives into positives, and even the "bad" feedback will help you make your writing its absolute best.
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