Now what? After you’ve finished writing and readers have reviewed your work, it’s time to evaluate the next step. The feedback you’ve received and the criticism of your project will probably be a whole host of things that cause stress and anxiety. Mainly: how do I know what to fix?
Interpreting these notes comes down to three simple things
- Can this improve my novel?
- Do I agree with the assessment?
- What can I learn from this?
A lot of the feedback might be straightforward changes that don’t require much reorganization or revision but others may need additional research, a change in the plot or character, something much more involved. Whatever the feedback might be, try not to have a snap reaction of disagreement, but rather be open to what your readers are suggesting and evaluate everything at face value.
Go through the notes and first ask yourself each question, following through to the answer and then subsequent questions. Even if you disagree with a comment, you should take it into consideration, ultimately trying to understand what there is to learn from the suggestion.
When evaluating feedback, you need to be self-critical and objective which in the world of subjective stories can be a tough skill to master. However, there will always be the element of subjectivity so keep that in mind to identify outlying reader comments (ie- suggestions no one else picked up on) and focus on the most pertinent issues.
A reader says your pacing is off in the middle of the book and the story drags.
Ask yourself, will this feedback improve my novel? Let’s say you say yes – especially because (hypothetically) many readers have told you the same type of thing.
Secondly, decide if you agree with the assessment or not. And you can disagree, but this step is only to highlight your bias not decide if the reader was right or wrong. For the sake of this example, let’s say you agree…the story drags.
Now decide what you can learn from this. This step is crucial because it will allow you to properly reflect and plan for the story’s future as well as your own. Perhaps you discover that while you excel at introducing ideas and wrapping them up, your middle connections, as well as development of plot and characters, tends to be lacking. Not only do you know what needs to be edited, you can also focus your development of craft on these very topics.
Create your edit document, or adjust the one you’ve been working on to include new fixes. I suggest organizing this document in a Beginning, Middle, and End format – arranged by chapters or sections may work better for you. There’s no right way to edit so do whatever is best for you but be sure to include all comments you plan to revise and keep an open mind as you plow forward into the next round of writing.
Focusing on how the feedback can help improve your story will also improve your abilities as a writer. View the criticism as an opportunity to learn; use the information as fuel to become better. That’s why I love hearing what readers have to say, even if it is a bit nerve-wracking, because it offers a chance to develop your skills. So absorb all you can and use this time to grow!