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December 01, 2010

How to Incorporate Feedback

Specifically from a writer's group

You've spent hours/days/weeks/months coming up with a sample. A chapter, a few pages, whatever. Your writer's group is on the calendar. Here's what to do before, during, and after.

1. Send it.

Put your name and the date in the file name.
Remember to follow standard manuscript formatting guidelines.
Put your name on every page.

2. Go to your group.

Surprisingly, I never bring a copy of my sample.  It's better to have a blank notebook in front of you. Your group mates will bring their own and will write on your draft for you. You should focus on writing down NEW ideas that come up in group.

Collect all copies of your sample at the end of your critique. Stack them up and stick them in your notebook with those notes you took.

After group, go home and throw the stack/notes on your desk and try not to think about it.

2. The following day

Look at the stack of copies/notes. Ask yourself if you're ready to deal with it. If you aren't, allow yourself a day to recover. You deserve it after all that ego bashing.

3. When you're ready

Put the stack of copies in front of your keyboard. Beside it, your notes.
Open up your master file
Go through each and every page of each and every copy of your draft, inserting a comment in your master doc for every note you see on the sample. Every note receives a comment, even if it's the same note from different readers. This is very important: the quantity of identical comments will affect your decision process in the next phase.
Once that's done, stack up the copies and put them near the trash. You're finished with them, but keep them around in case you missed something or need to refer to them.
Look at your written notes from group. Add them to the comments wherever they belong. If the comments cover a specific note, cross it off. Once they are all crossed off, you don't need your notes any more.

4. Congratulations, everything is in the master doc. Now comes the second hardest part (the hardest part is receiving criticism)

Go through each comment, and decide what to use and what not to use. You do this by applying democratic principles. Each comment gets a vote, and you get a vote as well. If there is only one comment for a specific item, it means only one person in your group is pointing out a possible issue. In this case, you get to decide to address it or not. If you don't think it's necessary to address, erase the comment. Once you do this, you are left with identical comments addressing the same issue. If there is more than one comment addressing the same issue, you must address it, because it means more than one person independently noticed an issue. Condense each of these comments into one comment for each issue, combining all notes, comments, and ideas.

5. For each comment, determine which category the note/issues falls into:

Overarching note: these are the hardest, and must be dealt with first--something like "the character doesn't feel real" or "I don't see where the story is going." In these situations, you need to step back and decide if you need to reapproach the whole sample. This is difficult, and if you decide to address the note with a reapproach, you might want to start with a blank page or go back to your outline and see what isn't working.

HOWEVER, this is what you do if you decide to address an overarching note in your draft:

Go through the draft/manuscript and find every example of the problem. Hilite it and copy the comment. Now you have comments that can be dealt with like the remaining specific comments. Decide to cut it, change it, or add to it.

CUT IT: Don't erase it yet, but rather strike through the text. Make sure the writing flows naturally without the writing you're going to cut.

CHANGE IT: Cut and paste the writing to be changed into the comment. In the draft, put something like: INSERT CHANGED TEXT THAT SOLVES THE PROBLEM BY MAKING IT MORE WHATEVER.

ADD TO IT: Write notes where you need to add something in caps and/or hilighted, like: INSERT MORE DESCRIPTION HERE

Okay, save your doc, back it up, and leave it for a while.

6. You are now ready to  address your feedback in manageable, bite-size portions. 

Sometimes I print out pages with comments and work on the changes/additions with pen and paper, because it's fun and we seldom get to use pen and paper any more. Also, a lot of these bite-size notes can be addressed with less than a page of writing, so you can work on them when you're in the waiting room, on the bus...whatever.

Delete each comment once you are finished with it. Move the cut strike-through text into a comment in case you want to go back to it or if there's  a gem of writing that you had to give up for now. The first time I saw a writer do this, a team of comedy writers put unused jokes into comments and said, "Ahh, comments. Where jokes go to die."

It's kind of true.

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