Welcoming Feedback

The writer's hand hovering over the send button on a computer keyboard

“I’m sorry. It’s really rough.” 

“I know it’s not very good, but . . .”

“What can I say? It’s a shitty first draft.”

I’ve said all of the above about my writing. 

And I am not alone. I’ve heard these things said by other writers.

A lot.

Stop the Presses

A while back, I found myself typing a “stop the presses”
email to a beta reader, an email in which I intended to ask her not to read the
manuscript I’d given to her less than 48 hours earlier because I had already
identified a sentence that absolutely needed to be removed from the second
chapter and I was suddenly acutely aware that the entire manuscript needed
another read-through, some serious edits, perhaps a sacrificial burning. I
intended to follow the please don’t read request with an apology and a promise
to fix as much as I could, reprint it, and bring her a clean copy, but that
this could take a while—months, perhaps years.

Luckily, my son came into my office to say hello while I was
typing. He asked what I was up to, and when I told him, he said, “Stop typing.
Don’t send that, Mom. Seriously, listen to me.” 

I lifted my fingers to hover over the keys. 

“Hands away from the keyboard.”

Welcome Advice

I turned and saw his expression, full of exasperation—and
empathy. My son is also a writer. He gently explained that he’d recently read
some advice about the editing process: How it was important not to tamper with
your manuscript once you’ve given it out to be read by others. How you should
never denigrate it when you ask someone to read it. How listing a bunch of
caveats predisposes the reader to find fault and search for the errors and
flaws they know must be there because you, the writer, told them errors and
flaws were there—plot holes, caricatures instead of characters, thin dialogue,
missing arcs, hokey endings. According to you and your “sorry, it’s rough, I
know it’s not very good, but what can I say, it’s a shitty first draft,” it’s
all there, and your readers feel obligated to find it.

Thinking of all the caveats I’d already given my reader when
I handed over the manuscript, I lifted my fingers completely and promised not
to send the email.

That wasn’t good enough for my son.

“Delete it, Mom.” 

Why Do We Sell Ourselves Short?

Hours later, it occurred to me that if I sat down in my
hairdresser’s chair and she said, “I’m about to give you a crappy haircut,” or
if my dentist said, “I’m not really that good at this whole teeth thing,” I’d
probably get up and leave—at least I’d like to think I would. And I began to
reconsider my defensive caveats. Why would someone want to read my manuscript
when I start with a list of reasons they shouldn’t? Why do I, as a writer, plant
seeds of doubt and inadequacy? Why do we, as writers, sell ourselves short? Why
do we constantly disparage our work? 

Drop the Defensive Caveats

So, I came up with a theory—perhaps it’s because we know
it’s highly possible (damn near certain) that someone out there won’t like what
we’ve written, and it’s easier to handle rejection or criticism if we’ve
already not liked it or criticized it ourselves. 

The thing is, even bestselling, prize-winning,
genius-labeled authors are not always appreciated. Someone out there can’t
abide Tolstoy. More than a few people can’t get through Joyce. There are
well-read individuals who do not understand Faulkner—at all. Someone doesn’t
like Hemingway, Kingsolver, Saunders, Barnes, Doerr, Tartt, Johnson, Egan. And,
though it may happen, I want to believe writers such as these did/do not turn
over manuscripts to friends, editors, or agents with the words, “This isn’t
very good.”

Writers benefit from constructive criticism at every stage
(I always value receiving it), but I am writing this blog to issue a challenge
to myself and all of you reading it: Stop introducing your work with negatives.
Drop the defensive caveats. Try “I hope you enjoy it” or “I welcome your
feedback” instead. 

I welcome your feedback. 

Anastasia

The author, Anastasia Zadeik, sitting on rocks near Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Guest blogger, Anastasia Zadeik, near Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

About Anastasia Zadeik

Anastasia Zadeik has been telling stories ever since she was
a little girl sitting around the dinner table with her brothers and sisters,
using every single second of her three allotted minutes to “share the most interesting
thing that happened to you today,” learning early that flash non-fiction is
tough, particularly for someone fond of details and embellishments.

Now a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach, Anastasia enjoys helping other writers find their voice and refine their work. She also continues to love telling stories to a live audience; she regularly performs in So Say We All’s VAMP and has had three pieces selected for inclusion in the San Diego Memoir Showcase

She’s currently working on Capture the Light, a novel about
loss, self-determination, and the power and limits of love.

5 Ways Authors Can Pay It Forward

a person pulling another person up a mountainWe all know that nobody gets to where they are alone. There are a number of unsung heroes along the way that have given us a leg up so we can be who we are. In that spirit, it’s only appropriate that we help others on their way up.

How to Pay It Forward

Here are five mostly easy ways to pay it forward to other authors:

  1. Be a beta reader. Every author needs beta readers to help them identify the trouble spots in their manuscript at some point in their writing process. And you can help by reading their work and giving honest, true blue feedback. Not the “It was interesting” kind of bullshit, but the real stuff—you have a plot hole that needs patching, your stakes need to be higher, or “I was confused by that road trip.” Help fellow authors on their way to finishing. Bonus: You may also get to read an awesome story.
  2. Buy a copy of a finished book. Let’s face it: we writers buy a metric ton of books all the time. Why not spend $15 on someone you want to help? Heck, even just $5 for a Kindle version helps. And sometimes it’s not about the money their book brings in, but the warm fuzzy feeling that someone cares enough to buy their book is enough to keep them going on those tough days when writing feels impossible. Help someone keep writing.
  3. Write a review. For all that is good in the world, please write a damn review. Yes, it matters. It matters for every other person who lands on that book’s page with their finger hovering over the mouse key to take them to the next thing. Your review could be the difference between someone buying the book or buying socks instead. So it’s a win-win. The author sells a book, and you help someone make the right choice.
  4. Recommend the book. Did you just finish the most amazing book about a mystical book wizard living in Denver? And you happen to know someone who lives in Denver and loves wizards? Tell them! Books don’t recommend themselves. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, so use it! It’s free for you to recommend a book that you loved, so why wouldn’t you? The bonus is that you’ll look like a smarty pants in the process, so by all means, push those glasses up the bridge of your nose and own it, brainiac.
  5. Teach someone. Yes, it’s labor intensive. Teaching any sort of class, whether it’s at the community center or a university, is hard work. It takes commitment, preparation, and know-how. But guess what? You already have the know-how, because you already fucking wrote something! And trust me, there are scores of writers out there dying to know how they can write better and finish what they’re working on. Sometimes, those classes are the difference between forging ahead and giving up. And YOU could be the person that helps them over those rough spots! While this is the most demanding way to pay it forward, it’s also the most rewarding and memorable. Plus, you can help multiple people at once, so now you’ve really paid it forward and deserve extra writer kudos.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/1807524/