What Criticism Do You Take Action On?
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov
Now last week we talked about what makes useful criticism, and we’ve talked about why feedback is important. So now let’s talk about how to choose what feedback to actually react to. Now like I’ve said before all feedback can be helpful in one way or another, but not all feedback is necessarily right for your story and only you can decide that.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the sentiment that you can’t please everyone. That is more true than ever with the world of art. Writing like any other art is highly subjective, and as such you will have people who just don’t like your piece or your style or you for that matter. Once you come to terms that there will be people who just don’t like your work it makes presenting your work that much less stressful. Surely there are things universally loved, puppies, rainbows, and Harry Potter, right? Nope… I even know someone who hates Harry Potter. Crazy I know, but that’s why I just write whatever I want to write and if people like it then it’s icing on top of the cake of getting to write.
So you’ve sorted through your feedback and found the actionables from the vague or trolling pieces. Now what do you do with it? Well, the first thing that I do is I try to clump all the similar feedback together. If a lot of people are saying the same thing, that holds a lot of weight with me, since that usually means there’s a big problem in the area and 9/10 times I’ll make a change. If it’s just a one-off comment from a single reader then I’ll ask myself if I agree with the feedback. This is a skill that takes some refinement. I tend to be on the side of the reader is always right, and I’ve worked with others who have different gut reactions. How I deal with that is I try to think about what is the core story I’m telling? Usually I can sum it up in a sentence or two and if the change will affect that core story. If it does, and the feedback is from a small minority of my reviewers 9/10 times I’ll pass on the change.
If the feedback doesn’t affect the core of the story then I tend to put in the change, see if when I read I like it or hate it. If I like it or don’t feel a strong opinion I leave it and let the next round of feedback a chance to chime in. Usually they don’t even notice or they like it. If I hate it then I try to find a different solution to address their feedback. Keep in mind that if you change something you can always change it back, so feel free to experiment. There was a time when I experimented with the name of the Hunters, thinking it was too generic. In the end most people didn’t like it and I changed it back.
Criticism in all forms, in my opinion, makes you a better writer. The trolls just make you that much stronger against them, vague opinions help you learn how to ask the right questions, constructive criticism helps you become a better writer and break any bad habits you might form, and compliments are great for self-esteem and motivation. So no matter what people have to say about your writing you can always use it to make you stronger and better. So no matter what form it takes, smile, say “Thank you for your thoughts,” and keep writing.