#144: On Receiving Feedback

I imagine that you’ve been in the position before, of getting feedback on something you made. For me, it goes something like this:

1/ Avoidance The email’s in my inbox when I get home Friday night. It’s from my editor (hi Jess!). I read the first few words of the subject line and close my laptop lid. I can’t – it’s too late in the evening. If I read it I’ll be awake for hours thinking about it. I go to straight to bed.

2/ Overwhelm The next morning when I wake up I reach over for my phone, open the mail app and … it’s what I was afraid of. The manuscript still needs significant work. The last draft showed some good progress, just not as much as we had hoped. I read through the editorial letter about what still needs work and I’m reeling, literally feeling ALL THE THINGS, in spite of the ample ego-cushioning my editor has included throughout.

3/ Detachment and Bargaining The morning crawls. Another gray Michigan day. I take my time to get out of bed and use the bathroom. In the shower, after the words of the editorial letter have settled a bit, I try to recall the main points and perform some triage.

There are the points that I agree with right away – many are thoughts that had crossed my mind while reading or writing but I never fully acknowledged. I can immediately see the changes, though, I still feel a slight frustration: If I had been more aware of my feelings, I think, I would’ve noticed them sooner. But I quickly tell myself, That’s why you work with other people. You can’t expect to be your own ombudsman.

There’s a second group within the feedback that I’m not entirely sure about. I may have to write it out to see if it works or, if they’re symptoms to a larger issue, I have to do some detective work to find the real cause. The second group is manageable, just like the first. I see the nature of the work that needs to be done, even if I don’t know what the answer looks like just yet.

Third, there’s the feedback that I resist with my entire being. They’re changes to pages that have been in there since the beginning and, maybe, don’t need to be in there anymore. Pages I had assumed were load-bearing walls in this proverbial house that I’m building. I argue both sides in my head (and am still arguing both sides), and after a while I’m less wound up about it. I have to admit that, like the previous category of feedback, I simply do not know the answer yet. I have to do the work and keep asking myself: Is it right for the story right now, instead of the story I had first envisioned.

I get out of the shower, dress, meditate, make tea. Still thinking about all this and more, such as the lines here and there in the editorial letter about how a character needs to grow or change in certain ways, and they’re the same ways that I myself need to grow or change. I’m amused, and humbled.

4/ Acceptance Here we are now, Sunday night. I’m going to re-read the manuscript in detail tomorrow. It’s safe to say that the story’s been blown wide open in my mind; whatever sacred cows there were no longer feel sacred. As it should be. No matter how many drafts I’ve written and how many times I’ve received feedback on something, I still go through all the stages to some extent, in order to get Here.

And if they sound to you like the stages of grief, I think that’s because they are. We are grieving for the old draft; we are putting it to rest. It’s not until we do that that something new can take its place.