posted by Rebecca J. Carlson
It took me some time to learn how to take feedback from test readers.
The very first time someone (other than my mother or my husband) read a manuscript I'd written I couldn't wait to talk with her about it. I had a chance to drive her to the airport, and was so excited to have her to myself for forty-five minutes. Once we got in the car I launched into what I thought she wanted to know--the entire history of where I'd gotten every brilliant idea and how I'd developed every charming character. She listened patiently, and when at last I wound down she offered, "Do you really have to start the story with someone making photocopies?"
Oh. That. Yes, maybe I should have thought of a more compelling opening scene.
Many drafts and many readers later, I had learned to keep my mouth shut and listen to what the reader had to say about the work. But I noticed something interesting about their comments. Often, a reader would point out something wrong and make a suggestion of how I should fix it. After I got over my bitter disappointment that my manuscript wasn't perfect yet and went back to take a look, the reader would be right about there being something wrong, but often it wasn't what they told me. There would be some other thing, some underlying thing that only I could see, only I knew how to fix.
This has come to guide both my response to critique and my giving of critiques. I no longer try to tell another writer what's wrong or what I think should be done to repair it. I say vague things like, "I didn't buy that." and "This confused me." I only go into more detail if asked. I also like to heap on the praise when good stuff is happening, because that's what I want to see! More good stuff!
And when someone tries to tell me what's wrong with my manuscript I listen carefully, knowing that my reader has probably detected a flaw even if my reader can't quite pin down what the flaw is. We all know that feeling, when reading a book, that something isn't working. I can be blind to that in my own work, just like my own children look beautiful to me even when they have tangles in their hair and watermelon smeared on their faces.
So thanks to everyone, everywhere, who has ever helped me comb the tangles out of a manuscript! I've learned so much from you, and I look forward to working together again.