Creative Feedback: A Mirror of Possibility

My friend Brenda is a transformational coach and motivational speaker, and she’s constantly dropping wisdom-bombs like this one: “Feedback is a mirror of possibility.”

Let’s take a moment to unpack this.

Feedback. What is it? Well, on the surface level, it means handing your manuscript over to some intelligent person—a trusted editor, colleague, friend, etc. They read it and tell you what they think. Simple.

But on a deeper level, feedback is the act of breaching the gulf between writer and reader. Because we’re mere authors and not mind-readers, there’s no way to know for sure whether we’ve communicated with absolute clarity. But our feedback-givers can help us get as close to the ideal as possible by serving as a proxy for the “real” (i.e., intended) reader.

Sometimes, your readers’ responses will reflect the ways you’ve hit the mark. They’ll let you know which parts of the book moved them, inspired them, resonated with their own lives. These are the beautiful moments of connection across the page, where the reader holds up a mirror to the author and reflects back, “Hell yeah! You did it!” In these instances, we get to celebrate those shining moments where we’ve fulfilled the vision we created at the outset.

Unfortunately, there will be spots where the reader’s response reflects the ways the manuscript has not met its mark yet. There will be spots where the reader was confused, bored, didn’t see the relevance, wasn’t persuaded, and so on. That’s okay. It’s all good information. Of course, given that you are a human being, you might find yourself having one of those pesky emotional reactions. I think most writers (myself included) harbor a secret desire for a reader to say, “It’s perfect! It’s finished! Don’t change a thing.” So, when readers reveal the flaws in a piece of writing, that can lead to disappointment and shutdown. Go ahead and indulge it for a few minutes or days. But after that, it’s time to get down to the very important work of being curious about the possibilities in front of you.

Once you’ve collected the feedback, it’s up to you to take it in and see the possibilities inherent. Let’s say a reader says, “chapter three seems really disconnected from the rest of the book.” Okay, well, that’s not ideal. But you’ve got at least two good options:

(1) You cut the offending chapter altogether, opening toward the possibility of streamlining the book in a positive way.

(2) You open toward the possibility of revising that chapter and deepening or clarifying its connection to the book’s overall messages.

Since it’s your book, the choice is ultimately up to you. What comes next is revision—a writerly adventure into getting your book ever more dialed in.

[This post originally appeared at sheilaashdown.com]

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Sheila Ashdown is founder and managing editor of The Ne'er-Do-Well. She recently adopted a second cat and is hoping it works out okay.