Last week, I outlined the three essentials of helpful feedback. Today’s letter discusses another important aspect of receiving feedback on your writing: how to avoid the proverbial problem of too many cooks in the kitchen.
While thoughtful, well-timed feedback from multiple trusted sources may seem like a good problem to have, the subjective nature of writing means that everyone’s feedback will be slightly different. One reader’s favorite part of your story may be another reader’s least favorite part; a third reader may want more action, while a fourth reader may want more introspection; and so on. Even if every reader mentions the same problem within a manuscript, each person will have different ideas for addressing it. This type of contradictory feedback can happen no matter how experienced the reviewers are; even professional reviews of published books often contradict one another.
In addition to making the revision process unnecessarily complex, wading through too much feedback can also make it difficult for writers to hear their inner creative voice. When this happens, it can be tempting for writers to start implementing some of the suggestions in the name of making progress—even if those suggestions don’t feel completely authentic to the story. The end result can be a manuscript that reads as if it was written by a confused committee, rather than one with a clear and distinctive point of view.
This is where the feedback funnel comes in:
I first mentioned the feedback funnel in this post about writing groups and critique partners. Essentially, the earlier you are in the writing process, the wider range of feedback you can receive. However, it’s important to note that just because you can receive more feedback early on, you don’t necessarily need to. Everyone’s writing and revising process is different, and your needs are likely to change over the course of your writing journey.
For example, if you’ve already identified one or two trusted sources of feedback, your feedback funnel may look more like a straw. Feedback from a trusted, established source is typically more valuable than feedback from a wider group.
If you haven’t yet found those one or two trusted sources of feedback, receiving feedback from a wider group is one way to facilitate these relationships. As you receive feedback, try to identify whose notes resonate the most with you, as well as those that aren’t in line with your vision. This will allow you to gradually narrow the amount of feedback you receive as you move forward in the writing and revising process. For example, you might brainstorm initial directions for a story with your entire writing group, but choose to share your full manuscript with only one or two members.
Limiting the amount of feedback you receive is also an important consideration when you begin working with an agent or editor. When you reach this stage, I recommend either focusing solely on your agent and editor’s feedback or sharing your revision ideas with one other trusted person.
No matter where you are in your creative journey, being selective with the feedback you consider can simplify this aspect of the revision process and help you to keep your unique creative vision front of mind.
Your Editor Friend,
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