How many times have I shared Uma wisdom here on the blog?
So many. (Here’s another favorite.)
A few weeks ago, during a Zoom critique group meeting, Uma said something about feedback that made me grab a pen. It’s worth remembering when it comes to my own writing and when I comment on someone else’s:
Maybe it’s not the time to look at comments literally but to look under the skin and see what is tripping people up. What is the story really about? What is getting in the way?
When we give (and get) feedback, while the suggestions might not be spot on, they often point out places where something isn’t working. Looking at feedback for the bigger picture is a way to see into the heart of the story — what’s on the page. What’s working. What’s getting in the way.
Writers, how might you move beyond the specific direction a critiquer has offered and look under the story’s skin?
This happened to me recently with one of my works-in-progress! At an earlier draft, one of my faithful readers/crit partners wanted to do away with my opening chapter and all that resulted from it. Howls of protest from all the rest of us! But, some months later, another of my readers pointed out that what my kids do in that first chapter is such a nuclear option. They come to the decision too easily. THAT was the problem. I recognized immediately that she was right.So I expanded some chapters in the middle of the book, when they are making that decision. I also got feedback from a professional editor and rewrote the controversial first chapter to emphasize what the characters were feeling. Now, the reader who wanted it cut finds it tolerable, at least.
So there was a problem but it wasn’t quite the problem this reader spotted. What I said to her: If a skilled reader and writer like you has a problem with something, I have to pay attention. Something is wrong–even if the reader can’t quite say what, or why.
I am very lucky in my readers!
Yes, this is exactly it! When a reader points something out, the suggestion might not be spot on, but knowing the “thing” is a trip up is something to consider. Listening to the suggestions — and more importantly, digging to learn what is underneath them — really is the key.