I’ve thought for many years about the nature of editing feedback and critique of one’s work in progress. I don’t understand the fear of critique. Critique is most commonly provided in a generous effort to be of service to the writer–and even if it isn’t, it’s not like anyone can make me take it. Editing feedback is almost exactly like…
…a salad bar.
Good editing feedback is like a salad bar. It’s a buffet of thinking readers’ opinions, thoughts, reactions, and interpretations about a story, and the author has a simple job: survey the salad bar, and choose among the feedback offerings for she thinks might make her story better. Also, thank people for unused feedback without feeling compelled to accept it whole-cloth–or indeed, at all. The more experienced the author, the better she will be at selecting only the feedback that improves the story she’s writing. The salad bar may offer a lot, but it’s the writer who’s making that particular salad, and she’s the person it has to ultimately satisfy (and then maybe the people who buy her work for publication).
Ultimately, the writer should be satisfied with what she writes, what she changes, and her own vision of what she has written. This skill—selecting among the feedback offerings—is as critical, I think, to improving one’s writing as is learning the basics of writing (like lay/lie, or grammar or verb tenses or point of view), and as critical as just getting out there and writing regularly.
Unlike a real salad bar, most people who make the effort to give you critique are trying to give you their very best. When we take the time to read, and think about, and examine your draft, we’re trying to look past our own favorite genres and character types, to see the story you wanted to write. We aren’t just going to throw some limp cut-up dill pickle on that salad bar before you.
Now, not many salad bars offer four bowls of the same kind of lettuce, but lucky writers receive redundant feedback. Redundant feedback can be the best guide. If, for example, several people comment similarly on the same story point, it helps the author understand how that point came across. It helps the author to identify whether what came across was what she meant to say. And, like healthier olive-oil-and-balsamic dressing, it’s something an author might want to consider more seriously than bleu cheese, for the good of the story.
In other words, as a man I respect often says, “Everyone is entitled to their shitty opinion. But some people’s opinions aren’t shit and they can be helpful. It’s your job to decide.”