Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's okay because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren't focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.
Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, neglecting research, or researching too much. This week's writing mistake writers make is not accepting feedback on your writing.
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Accepting Feedback on Your Writing
Flashback: I excitedly sit down for our workshop looking forward to the feedback I'm about to receive on my latest short story, the one that I'm most excited about and that I revised a couple times before sharing. After all, the last story I shared was a hit, so this one (that I'm sure is way better) should be a super hit.
As everyone does their normal small talk at the beginning of the workshop, I can barely wait for everyone to start tearing into my story like birthday presents. But then, a fellow workshopper starts to talk about my story, and it's not what I expect ("the characters feel two dimensional"). Then, another person chimes in with feedback about how the story seems "too contrived." And while there is some positive feedback too, the damage is done. My masterpiece is not the masterpiece I thought it was (according to these people anyway).
My first instinct is to add that parenthetical aside. Who are these people critiquing my writing? What have they written that was so great? Maybe they're just jealous of my last story that got great feedback. Maybe they're upset that I had some "constructive criticism" of their stories. And on and on.
Let's step back into the present tense: It's completely normal to feel defensive when you receive critical feedback on your writing (whether it's constructive or not). Let's get that out of the way first. But it's how you handle that feedback after the initial reaction that will determine whether you're making a common writing mistake.
If you just reject all criticism without considering whether it has merit, then you're missing an opportunity to improve your writing. However, writers who can take feedback and use it as an opportunity to understand what works and doesn't work with readers will ultimately find more success with their writing.
Mistake Fix: Objectively Consider Feedback
In my example above, I often did find that my initial impulse was to defend my writing. That's actually a healthy response, because the writer is the best advocate for a piece of writing. But I also learned to take a step back after receiving feedback and try to objectively consider what others had to say.
Note: This doesn't mean I made every suggested change. I've received quite a few suggestions over the years that I could acknowledge were valid but that I decided not to make, but I always had to go through a process of "honestly" defending my original choice.
If one person in a workshop says they don't like a specific character but three others say they love the character, then I don't just side with the people who love the character. I take a step back and try to look at what people like or dislike about the character, what that character's role is in the story, and so on.
It's possible the character's actions were noteworthy (for people who loved the character) but the character still feels underdeveloped (for the person who did not like the character). By adding a little quirk, maybe the character becomes a stronger character for all four people.
I know I've mentioned before that receiving critical feedback can sometimes feel like a personal attack on your writing skills, but one of the main reasons to workshop or share your writing is to find weaknesses that you can improve. This will move you closer to other goals such as getting published and finding more success as a writer. But only if you take this feedback as an opportunity to improve instead of an opportunity to show your fight or flight reflexes.
So share your writing and welcome that feedback, whether it's filled with praise, critiques, or a mix of both. You can decide whether to follow suggestions, but keep an open mind as you consider them.
2nd Draft provides a high-level review of your writing, pointing out reasons your work may be getting rejected, or may not meet the standards of traditional publication. After an evaluation of your submission, one of the professional 2nd Draft critiquers will provide feedback and advice. You’ll not only learn what’s working in your writing, but what’s not, and—most important—how to fix it..