It is every writer’s dream to be as good as Ernest Hemingway or William Shakespeare. Every fantasy author aspires to write like C. S. Lewis; every horror story writer wants to be the next Stephen King. Romance novelists want to write like Jane Austen while authors who want to be known in the historical fiction category get inspired by Dan Brown. But the truth is that we cannot clone these authors. Every author has their strength and their weaknesses. What we need to do is capitalize on our strength and work on our weaknesses. And we can do that through feedback.
It is a good thing to be inspired by authors you admire but another thing to copy them. If you want to create your own identity and be known for your writing style, you have to work on your own skills. Every writer is different. Every writer has a different style of writing; a unique sense of expression. If you want to master your craft and if you are really serious about improving your writing skills, you have to be open to feedback. Don’t be afraid to get feedback from people whose opinion you respect. This could be a close friend, a spouse, an editor or another writer. Whoever it is, it is important to share your work with a few people who you know will give you their honest opinion.
We understand that critical feedback can be difficult to handle. But keep in mind that you need to be able to distinguish constructive feedback from toxic feedback. No matter how good a writer you are, there will always be people who will put you down. These trolls are not doing this to help you improve; they’re doing it to hurt you, offend you, insult you and make you upset. You don’t need to give any importance to this type of feedback.
What you should take seriously, however, is feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. These days it has now become so easy to comment on people, their work, and their life and on practically everything related to them that we’ve become accustomed to dismissing everyone who has anything negative to say about us. But as writers, we need to be careful who we’re dismissing. Every critical feedback of your writing will not be from a hater. And you need to have the courage to deal with feedback from someone who might be challenging your core belief that you are a good writer.
The thing is that as writers, we are usually too attached to our work and that is why we often reject feedback because we don’t want to hear anything against something that is so close to our heart. It is this fear of negative feedback that often brings us to a point when we choose not to share our work with anyone unless we absolutely have to. But it is important to remember that we are writers. We write for ourselves but if we choose to publish, then basically we are writing for others. And while every writer must have felt that fear when negative feedback is given, and may even have ignored that feedback, there is one thing that every professional writer should keep in mind: you cannot please everyone, so why should you keep on trying after all? Yes, we all enjoy fame and desire the recognition that masters of this craft like Shakespeare, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Woolf, Miller, and others have enjoyed to this day, but let’s face it: how many of us really have the gift or the art of mastering the flow of words the way they did? There is no sense in competing with others. You should seek inspiration; not get into a competition.
As John Steinbeck, an American author, often called a giant of American letters, once said, “Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”
In every writer dwells a copywriter, in a way, perhaps a craftier one, one who has the gift of creating images, plots, and characters through words, but nonetheless a writer who writes with the purpose of reaching their audience.
We all have our unique style and way of expression as we have our own vision and perception of the world. What matters if you’re taking your craft seriously is always to think of your target audience, address that one person or persons from the massive crowd in your writing. Create a piece with them in mind, and if you manage that, you’ve achieved something. And remember, you only respect them if you respect their opinion. Here are a few reasons why you should not be afraid of your audience’s feedback.
Write for one
Taking Steinbeck’s considerations to heart, writing for one person only (or the very few who have a certain taste), eliminates the fear of rejection. This feeling of freedom will help you find the flow of words to tell the story, YOUR story, in a way that has never been done before – YOUR way.
It is vital for any piece of writing to reflect authenticity. As long as you respect the principle of verisimilitude and don’t cheat on your audience, you can be confident that you will be able to get them hooked to your plot. Essentially, whenever you sit down to write a piece, be that for a commercial purpose or a creative piece, make sure to render the truth through your words. Nothing drives people away from your writing more than the sense of being “cheated” or “taken for granted.” In other words, try to wear the reader’s hat for a little while and ask yourself: “Would I read this? Why?” If the answer is “Yes, I would because it’s good, then you’re on the right track. And if you’re confident that it’s good, it is probably so because it’s authentic or it teaches people something, or because it answers a vital question, or it stirs the soul – it invites to introspection and self-search. Why should you then fear feedback? Let them stay what they want. If they make sense, improve your work further. If they don’t make sense, ignore them.
Speak to a small audience
Having your work published is never easy. The thought that millions of people out there can access your book can be quite intimidating, especially for a new writer. One way of dealing with this pressure is to speak to a small audience, not the wide masses. If you do this, you will see that the so-called writer’s phobia of having your book squashed by the editor, or blog vehemently criticized on different forums will miraculously fade away, and the words will flow out of you without any concern for who might think what. Therefore, if you manage to identify your target audience, know what is expected of you and what you want to achieve with your writing, you’re in luck. Why should you be afraid of “the big, bad wolf” when you have absolutely nothing to fear?
Find your niche
How many of us have really cracked the ice with an astounding novel? Too few, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean we can’t write or that there is no future for us in the world of writing. We’ve all tried our hand by flirting with different niches and getting a few cross-border copywriting gigs. We’ve all been put to the test when writing about topics and segments we never thought we would be able to write on. This trial and error; this stage of finding ourselves is actually good for us because we can never be sure what our niche is unless we’ve tried writing about different things – from recipes to news and creative pieces to a full-scale novel.
Turn negative feedback into a learning curve
How will you know what your audience expects of you unless you’re ready to receive their reaction to your work? After all, you are writing for them, not just to fill up a page. Negative feedback is part of the learning process. As a writer, you’re attached to your piece and dread to see it being butchered by Mr. and Mrs. Smith who know little if barely anything of your “struggle” with that piece. Don’t undermine them though, because they may be either writers like you (so, they do know your struggles first-hand), or professionals in the field you’re writing your article in. Most of all, they are readers, your primary target audience. And if you don’t listen to your reader, don’t expect them to take you seriously either. While it may be hard for you to accept criticism, it will help you in the long run if you take their negative feedback as part of a learning curve.
Nobody is perfect, neither are you
Perfection belongs to the Gods, and when it comes to writing not even to them. But the question is: what is perfection really? How would you define perfection in terms of writing? The best of authors and the best of books have all been criticized. We’ve already discussed numerous authors and manuscripts that were rejected, dismissed and brutally criticized. So then why this desire to be perfect? Why this desire to attain the unattainable? Jane Austen may be the greatest romantic author of all time, but we can guarantee you that there are many people out there who absolutely hate Pride and Prejudice. E. L. James has been severely criticized for her lack of writing skills, and yet her Fifty Shades of Grey series drove millions of people wild all over the globe. What might seem perfect to you may not even be liked by another person and what you may think is awful may become an instant bestseller.
There is no such thing as perfection in writing. You can try to improve how you write. You can improve your storytelling skills; you can work on how you develop your characters; you can work on your show, don’t tell technique. But if you think you’re perfect or you could be perfect, think again. You’re not perfect, and neither was Shakespeare.
Writing is a creative and ever-shifting area. What may seem “perfectly outlined” to you as the writer may not seem the same to your readers. And that is precisely why you should take feedback seriously. Sometimes, there are things that we miss – little things that can make a big difference. Taking criticism constructively will not only help you to improve your skill, but it will give you the recipe for success.
Feedback is important for your own development as a writer. But don’t give too much importance to the haters. Stay away from the trolls. If you don’t to be shocked by feedback from strangers, take on a proactive approach and take feedback from people you respect before you even distribute your material for the entire world to see. Why do you think so many authors give importance to advanced reviews? You think their only goal is to fill their Amazon page with five-star reviews? No. Their goal is to test their work on a sample population. If they get feedback that makes sense and that likely to improve their work further, why shouldn’t they take it? Giving advanced copies of your book or story to a selected few can make your life easy because it will prepare you for what might be coming from a broader audience.
Just like we’ve advised you to give up the fear of rejection, similarly, we are advising you to give up the fear of feedback. Don’t be scared of it but instead embrace it. Just do it smartly so that you benefit from it and are able to apply sensible suggestions and recommendations to make your work better.