A couple of weeks ago, my office held its quarterly “Corporate Development Day”. A day full of presentations, Q & A’s, and even role-playing exercises designed to help us grow as employees. The subject of one of the four round-robin sessions was the concept of feedback and its importance in the workplace. I paid attention to the presentation and even participated in the game that accompanied it, but considered it to be the least interesting of the day’s topics, mainly because I felt confident in my ability to both give and receive it.
Now I know you didn’t come here today to read about a day in the life of the “9-5” Wordslinger so don’t worry loyal reader, I’ll get to something more slinger-like in a moment. You see, while Corporate Development Day may seem worlds apart from the craft of writing that has become such an integral part of my life, the topic that I so carelessly dismissed is most certainly not.
Last Thursday evening, a week or so after CDD (as I’m now calling it, since typing it is getting a bit wordy…though this explanation was longer than actually typing it out so…oh whatever, I’m starting this sentence over.) Last Thursday evening, a week or so after CDD, I was given a rare opportunity to meet with someone I consider an expert in the writing and publishing industry. In what seems like a past life, I had a personal relationship with this person, so he was kind enough to arrange the meeting and discuss my writing.
I had forwarded him the first two chapters of my manuscript prior to our scheduled appointment so he would have the opportunity to get a glimpse of what I hope will be a gripping and emotionally charged novel. When he pulled the paper from his briefcase, my first thought was that he must have cut himself while reading it, as there seemed to be more red than black on the page. I’ve heard it said that no great writer ever considers himself as such, and I certainly didn’t think Chapters 1 and 2 were anything worth notifying the Pulitzer committee about, but I also hadn’t prepared myself for the critique that was to come.
I sat there for the next 45 minutes or so listening to an expert in the field, and a writer himself, dissect my first 11,000 words like they were a frog in 9th grade biology. After the meeting, I drove home thinking about all the my narrative that had been diced like a tomato and my dialogue that, at best, was akin to “chit-chat”. But mostly, I thought about the last suggestion that he gave me as we parted ways; scrap the whole thing and start over.
Today is Tuesday, meaning it has been four full days since that meeting. It has also been four full days since I’ve written anything. The truth is, I was wrong when I sat back after CDD and thought I knew how to handle feedback. This meeting, this honest and impartial criticism of my work, had given me pause.
For several days I’ve looked at the marked up manuscript, questioning what I should do next. Scrap the work and start anew, as suggested? Continue along my original outline and see where it takes me? Change the POV of the novel? The setting? The chronology? All viable options. But the more pressing concern to me was how this first critique (of what I know to be just a first draft) affected me.
The idea of sharing our work with others is a scary concept for a lot of writers, but it is a necessary one. After all, isn’t our goal as aspiring novelists to, you know, publish a novel? Now I can’t speak for all writers, but my guess is our desires are mostly the same; to publish great work, and have people actually like it. When that second part doesn’t happen though, it’s important that we learn how to accept it and learn from it. And that’s what I intend to do with this most recent critique; learn from it.
So I’m going to start writing again, most likely following the path of one of the above mentioned scenarios, and use the advice of an expert to get better. We should always strive to get better, no matter what we do. I threw my amateur work into the ring with a professional and it got the crap knocked out it in the 1st round. Ok, that’s fine. We’ll regroup, learn from our mistakes, and climb right back in the ring again. So while I get back to writing a kick-ass novel, I’ll leave you with two excellent quotes from two excellent writers.
“I am never indifferent, and never pretend to be, to what people say or think of my books. They are my children and I like to have them liked.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” -Ernest Hemingway
How do you handle feedback, both good and bad?