A writer can be something of a sponge, soaking up the ideas and personalities of others and regurgitate them on the page. However, while waiting for the right moment, those bits mingle with the thoughts of the author and sometimes they take on a life of their own. This can steer the writer in the wrong direction on a story, but it can also push you in the wrong direction on a macro scale.
Quite naturally the novice rejoices at even the smallest morsel of feedback. They hold it close and nurture it until they finally absorb it into their being. This is where bad things tend to happen.
Still, you are responsible for your own fate. A word of positive encouragement cannot steer you down the wrong path unless you let it.
At heart, I’m a pleaser and so I want to sing and dance for all the world. As a result, I tend to shift with the breeze, following this idea or that.
I’ve had the good fortune to have some wonderful friends. People of such grace and kindness as to read most everything I send their way – even when they are clearly the characters being portrayed. [How painful it must be at times to be the friend of a writer!]
I treasure their insight and comments, but I tend to take them to heart too quickly. I’ve gotten better over the years, but it’s still a hard thing for me to deal with. Here are a couple of tips that seem to help me keep feedback separated from my own thoughts, which has the benefit of making said feedback useful too:
Put some distance between the work and the feedback.
Nothing is worse than getting feedback on a story you just “finished”. First, you’re all amped up about it, so you’re likely to be overly emotional about the feedback (good or bad). Second, you’re probably tired of working on the story so any changes that should or could be made will be discounted by your writer’s brain.
Try to get feedback in person.
I find that discussing a work in person is generally more productive than getting an email. Most people (even writers) won’t take the time to tear it apart properly. In addition, feedback received in person is easier to forget, which sounds a little strange but think of all the old emails or redlined drafts you’ve read over and over again.
Know what you were trying to write in the first place.
You get an idea for a story (maybe it’s just a character or a scene) and you get to scribbling. You work at it for a long while and then, “Whee! It’s done!”
Oh, but wait, what the hell is the story about? What did you want the reader to get from the story? Even if you work on a story for two-thousand years, it will be open to interpretation, but when you get feedback it’s really helpful to know what you were trying to write in the first place. How else can you gauge success?
Just so you know, I forget this advice every time I finish a story. Maybe I should tack it up on the wall.