5 Tips for Handling Feedback as a Writer

I thought this quotation from writer Stephen King was a good way to start this post.

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King

Rewriting is a beast. You get feedback from trusted readers, even though all you want them to say is, “Every word is perfect. Don’t change a thing.” You struggle with what feedback to use and how you are going to tackle it. Sometimes it feels like tearing down a house you built and rebuilding from scratch. Ugh. I know. I’ve been there.

So how do you decipher what you should and shouldn’t do on a new draft? Here are some of my techniques that have worked for me:

1. Put the piece down for a few days.

For the love of Garfield, step away from the lasagna (the lasagna being your novel, play, TV script, short story, etc.). It can get easy to obsess over every word, but the truth is, you need a little distance from your work. Take a few days. Don’t even think about your piece. Finish doing the dishes or play with your dog. Then come back and read it with fresh eyes. It should be clearer to you what isn’t and is working.

2. Does the feedback ring true to you?

If there was a little part of you that agrees with what your trusted reader said, think about it. You might have the reaction of, “NO, they don’t get it,” but then later, the piece they point out makes sense to you. If that’s the case, use it. For example, I was dead set on writing a YA series, but after reading a draft of book 1, my agent felt like it was more of a middle-grade book. I thought about it for a few days, then it clicked. The story totally changed for the better because of her observation.

3. Make a list of what you want to tackle.

I usually go for the big stuff first, like building the friendships between the main characters then I’ll work my way down to making sure that all the verb tenses are the same. It’s easier to manage when you have an outline of what you need to fix.

4. Don’t be precious about your words.

Yes, you’re a talented, creative genius, but do you need 13 adjectives in one sentence? No. Cull down your work. Any writer who has told me that they simply don’t know what to cut is being too precious about their words. I put my editor hat on and cut, cut, then cut again. Magazine writing has taught me about the economy of words. Less is more. Get in there as Stephen King puts it, and murder your children (not the real ones, of course).

5. Let it go.

At some point, you can rewrite a piece to death. It’s a fine line between “needs more work” and “I’m done.” During a book reading, Toni Morrison said to the audience when someone asked about her writing process, that as she was reading the book to us, she noticed places that she would change and rewrite. And she’s Toni Morrison! Every writer needs to let go of their piece at some point. If you’ve done steps 1-4, then you might be ready to let it go.

I hope that helps! I must admit that I give myself this pep talk every time I write. It’s excruciating and painful and annoying, but you’ll only get better by writing and rewriting.

I'd love to know what you think! Tell me in the comments below.

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