You’ve finished your draft. You can’t even see the words on the page anymore—your eyes are bloodshot and your veins are dripping caffeine. Your sink is piled high with dishes and your dog won’t speak to you (Yes, my dog does speak to me sometimes. In my voice.) You’ve read and rewritten your pages so many times, they seem to be composed in a foreign language.
It’s time for feedback.
Here are my tips on who to ask, how to ask, and strategies for processing all the notes once you get them. Of course, this is just one approach, but it works for me!
1. Only give your work to trusted friends or professionals who are smart and will be able to give you good notes. Preferably people who are writers themselves and understand the craft of storytelling. Avoid grandma and your best friend. They love you. They won’t be honest. And honestly, they won’t be that helpful.
2. Ask your readers, “What works, and how can I strengthen the pages?” This way, you’ll know all the juicy stuff to keep, and all the things you still need to work on.
3. Once you get the notes back, don’t freak out. Have a beer. It’s ok. There are problems in the pages. You knew that. Embrace this part of the process.
4. Find consensus amongst the comments. Look for the similar things people pointed out. These problems go on your “definitely fix” list. Your readers may have said, “This part was confusing” or “I don’t understand that character.” Pay attention here. These comments are important— when more than one person notices smoke, there’s probably fire.
5. Trust your instincts. Yeah, just what I said. If an inner alarm goes off saying, “Yeah, I knew that part was messed up,” listen to it. If your inner guide is telling you a note is totally off base, then set this note aside (don’t throw it away, just set it aside.) Sometimes the notes you reject the most fiercely are the ones that end up saving the whole enchilada. And just to be contradictory…
6. Be wary of oddball comments from people with specific agendas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been lead off course by one comment that struck me as wrong, but the person who said it was so smart or cool that I doubted myself. So good luck with numbers 5 and 6. This is where it gets complicated.
7. Write down all the things you want to fix. A simple list.
8. Make a new outline. Just a brief 5-6 page rundown of the overall story. Add the changes you are going to make into the outline, then track all the action and character development in this short document to make sure everything’s working.
9. Start rewriting with this new outline as your guide. In this phase, it’s super important to take the feedback and make it your own in the rewrite. Sometimes listening to notes, means not listening to notes. People may have a bad idea about how to fix a problem, but there’s still an issue there that you can solve in a better way. Your way. In a way that’s true to the characters you love and the story you want to tell. Again, trust your instincts.
As you get feedback on multiple drafts, your list of “fixes” will get smaller. Keep working. If you want, give it to different people, but not too many. It can get crazy making. If you’re writing a screenplay, invite some friends over and read it out loud (trust me, this will be a huge barometer of what’s working or not.)
Ultimately, you’ll decide when it’s ready to send out to the world. It’s never going to be “perfect.” Get over that. But don’t give your screenplay or book to agents/buyers until it’s as good as you can make it. You’ll only get one read from these people. If you are like me, addicted to feedback, know that you’re a cowardly lion and don’t want to finish because you fear judgment. This is called Resistance.
But that’s a topic for another blog.
Take action! Are you almost done with a draft? Make a short list of people who will give you great feedback. Ask them what works, and what doesn’t. Process your feedback by detailing the common threads and figuring out your own fixes. Rinse. Repeat.
Before you send your baby out to the world, start working on your next project.