The Unnecessary Shame Writers Feel When Getting Feedback

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By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I used to get embarrassed every time I allowed someone to edit one of my manuscripts. I'd feel so stupid when they'd mark obvious things. I think to myself, "Wow, I can't believe I missed THAT. They must wonder if my seven year old daughter wrote it."

I felt even worse when I'd get macro-edits back from my publisher, the pages of big-picture notes that delineate all the many flaws in plot and character development. In fact, every time I'd get those notes from my editor, I'd say something like, "I'm a terrible writer. I can't believe my publisher ever signed me since I obviously can't write a decent story."

The truth is most of us feel a lot of shame when we get feedback on our manuscripts. The negative messages start playing through our minds at top speed. We begin to second-guess our abilities, wonder why readers and publishers would be willing to take a chance on us, and may even feel like giving up all together.

Slowly, I'm learning that such shame is unwarranted. No matter our skill level, no matter how many years we've been writing, no matter how many books we have under our belts, all writers need help with editing and usually lots of it.

Let me say it again. ALL writers need help with editing. No one is exempt. Not even experienced, bestselling authors.

Every writer needs outside assistance in making a book worthy for readers. There's no shame in admitting we make mistakes. It's natural and normal for our books to have flaws, sometimes many.

Here are a few truths I've come to accept:

1. No writer can get a story perfect the first time.

No matter how slowly and carefully I write, no matter how much research I do before I start, I still cannot put out a perfect story.

Just this past weekend I finished writing my thirteenth full length novel. And even though I think the first draft of this latest novel is fairly clean, I know I'll have plenty of editing to do once I get outside feedback on it. I already have notes in the margin for all the changes I need to make, but objective eyes will always find more ways to make the story better.

My point is, that even after completing twelve previous novels, I still haven't written a book that's worthy of publication in first draft format. It's unrealistic to think that all the words of a full length novel (usually somewhere between 60,000 to 100,000) will fit together in absolute union, that dozens of characters, themes, and plot threads will weave together without any bumps or loose threads.

2. Writers can't see their story the way the audience does. 

Lately as I write, I've been comparing myself to a puppet-master directing a play behind the scenes. I'm dangling all my characters on the stage, trying to keep them acting as they should without getting tangled. I'm paying attention to the background, the transitions, and the one-thousand-and-one other details that need to happen in the story.

The fact is, from my position, I just can't view the story with the same kind of objectivity and perspective that those sitting in the audience can. I'm too enmeshed in every nuance to be able to let go and see it with the freshness that can give me the critical feedback on whether everything's working together from start to finish as it should.

3. Writers need to love the vision they have for their stories and not the words.

I saw the above image on Pinterest and it really resonated. When I got my rewrites on my first published book, and I realized just how many changes my publisher wanted me to make, I was flabbergasted. I couldn't keep from wondering why they'd given me a contract when there were so many things wrong with my story.

Since then, I've realized that agents, editors, and other writing professionals, aren't signing writers who have perfect stories. Far from it. Of course they're able to spot writers who have honed the craft, know how to tell a good story, and can put it all together.

But in addition to that, they can see the vision of the story's potential. And a good editor will help impart that vision to the author. An author must hold the heart of the story in her hand, but be willing to let the words slip through her fingers.

My Summary: If I ever reach a point where an editor tells me I've produced a perfect first draft, then I know I need to solicit further feedback (or a new editor!). Because there's no such thing as a book not needing editing.

What about you? Have you ever felt like a terrible writer after getting feedback? How hard or easy is for you to be in love with the vision of the story but not with the words?

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