On Honest Feedback and Negativity Specs

Beware the Dreadful Spectacles of Negativity!

Honest feedback is hard to find and hugely valuable to writers (and perhaps everyone else). You churn the book out; your lovely friends and family say it’s great, but in the back of your mind doubt always lurks, buzzing like the last mosquito in the holiday bedroom.

What we need is a professional, someone who knows our genre and the book business, who is tactful and penetrative and wise and who will prod us with gentle authority into seeing for ourselves the tweaks needed to turn the book into its very best self.

This week I received feedback from a set of competition judges. It’s a quick reaction from them, but they’re experts, so it’s gold dust. Exactly what I need.

I looked at the file in my inbox – and I must admit I quailed. It’s scary, that honest stuff. These readers are judges, they know what they’re about. There will probably be things in there I don’t want to read, I thought.

I know how this works because I’ve used editors in the past. They have been great, but it isn’t a comfortable process – it shouldn’t be. Their job is to find the weaknesses and point them out, which hurts!

And a special kind of selective eyesight sets in when you read a critical appraisal of your own work: negativity specs. These are opposite of the rose-tinted kind, where you see only the sunlit afternoons of your gift-wrapped happy past; negativity specs allow you to see only bad things. Enthusiastic words of fulsome praise disappear as you fasten like a terrier upon the few lines that nail the imperfections.

The very worst of it, in writing as in life, is that these critics rarely tell you something you didn’t already know. Like the dentist who taps the exact spot that makes you howl, you know they’re right. You knew that plot detail/character/setting wasn’t really working. You knew you’d have to change it one day. Now you know it twice.

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