The Writer's Ego: How to Give and Receive Feedbackby Charlotte Holm Juul, Saturday February 15, 2014
As a writer, many hands touch your work. Critique partners, beta readers, outside sources like magazines and books on writing. Even novels you read for fun. Giving and receiving feedback is part of writing – but it’s not always easy. Here’s how we deal with this important – and often humbling – part of the process.
Lee: I think it's important to be deferential about it, to realize that there will be somebody out there who has a suggestion that will make a real difference.
Virginia: Yes! I agree. I feel like, especially as a debut, there's so much to learn. And it’s important to be open to the process.
Lee: When I first started writing, I was so afraid of negative feedback that I never shared anything. But I really do think that bringing a book to the next level is a collaborative process by definition. The collaborators will be different for everyone, but there needs to be someone else besides you “cooking” in the kitchen. I’m a perfectionist, so I was reluctant to acknowledge this.
Chandler: I totally agree that perfectionism is a form of ego. Its sister, perhaps. The belief that it can be perfect at all is egotistical and paralyzing. And when egos are bruised it’s harder to be open to learning.
Lee: Were either of you really hesitant to share your work at first? Was I the only one with a huge inferiority complex? It actually took me, like, a year of writing before I even showed my family.
Virginia: Definitely. I never showed anyone my first draft, or my second – not even my husband. I showed him the third after which he said: you should share this. So I gave it to three friends and my cousin. It was nerve wracking.
Chandler: I always feel like I want to share right after my first chapter is finished actually. And I think this is probably a bad example of ego too. I want to know if it's even worth pursuing to protect my ego down the line.
Lee: I've gotten much better at saying ‘thank you’ to people regardless of how I initially feel about their feedback. It's just so hard to change your direction midstream if that makes sense. But reflecting on feedback, especially a comment from someone I truly value opinion-wise, is crucial to making your book better. I often go that direction once I have a chance to think about it.
Chandler: I feel embarrassed when I get feedback. I generally receive it very quietly. It has to marinate for me.
Virginia: I think you know, inherently, if there's an issue with your book, something that just doesn't feel right – and if the feedback touches on that, then you know it's right. But sometimes you hear something that perhaps comes out of left field you smile, say thank you, and move on.
Chandler: Yes! I think you know in your heart of hearts what's wrong. Sometimes you just need confirmation.
And the same process you go through with beta readers and critique partners? That’s the process you go through with agents and editors – taking your story apart, analyzing what works and what doesn’t work, and building it back up again. So learning to accept feedback is not only key to writing your book, it’s also fundamental to shopping and (fingers crossed) preparing that book for the world to read.
We want to hear from you in the comments! Do you ever feel your “writer’s ego” getting in the way? If so, how do you overcome it? Continue the conversation all week by contacting us on Twitter @leeykelly, @virgboecker and @chandlerbakerYA