When I read manuscripts for people, I always offer feedback. I also always hesitate before doing so, because I never know how it’s going to be accepted (or whether it’ll be accepted).
From me, feedback on writing isn’t a declaration or proclamation. Sometimes, it’s the start of a dialog. This is a really good thing—the feedback I give as a reader is just one person’s response to to the words. It should help the writer understand how their story is being seen, at least by one reader. This is a little fraught with peril, because as writers we know exactly what we’re trying to get across. To hear that it didn’t work, or that it only worked in part, can sting. A lot. But I decided a long time ago that as much as it hurts to find out that I didn’t get my point across, or didn’t do it well, or left a completely different impression from the one I intended, or that someone didn’t understand my character or plot point or whatever, the critique will always make me a better writer.
I’m much more accepting of concrit now than I used to be. I still look on my characters and stories as my babies, and to me they are perfect. But I’ve also learned to look on my writing as a skill, and all skills have room for improvement. I’m not perfect by any means. I don’t write a perfect first draft that leaves readers reeling in wonder and excitement. That comes in the revision phase, if it comes at all, and for that, I need reader feedback.
So when I send out feedback to people (especially those I don’t know well), I always hold my breath a little and hope they’ll take the feedback in the spirit it was intended. Not as criticism but as suggestion, ways I think their work can be improved. It’s all just suggestion! It’s all subjective! What I like, another reader might not. What I can’t stand, another reader might love. We can’t please everyone, but we can at least learn to please ourselves with our writing.
I’ve been sending out lots of feedback lately. I love when I get impassioned responses to it on a point-by-point basis, especially when the author disagrees. Why? Because if the author feels strongly enough to debate my concrit, it means I have them thinking about their approach to the story, character, or scene. That’s the kind of thing that for me as a writer, I think about for days and days until I either decide the feedback-giver was absolutely right or absolutely wrong. More often than not, I realize they were right, and then my brain can start solving the puzzle of how to fix that piece.
Yesterday I got a response from someone who (I’m paraphrasing) said they were thankful because the feedback I gave not only fit with what other people had been telling them, but that it made something click and they figured out how best to revise. That made me so happy. Because so often when I send feedback I have my fingers crossed and hope the author will understand where I’m coming from, and so often I never hear a peep. Did they get it? Do they hate me now? Was I at least a little bit helpful?
Hearing back like that made me smile. So for everyone who’s ever bothered to read my work and send feedback, a giant thank you. And for everyone who’s read my feedback and had even a tiny “aha” moment, another giant thank you for taking my thoughts into consideration. No writer could possibly be where they are without their readers and critique partners.