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Feedback? – yes please!

At work, giving feedback on performance is a constant issue. Lots of ‘I never get feedback on my work’ and ‘my manager doesn’t know how to give feedback.’ There’s might be some truth in that, but on the principle of it taking two to tango, feedback also takes two, and both of them have to be committed for it to be effective. Here’s what can happen when we receive feedback that isn’t ‘you’re wonderful’:

  • ‘It’s not me, it’s you.’ We take the correction and throw it back in the person’s face. ‘Well, you would say that, because you don’t know how to manage/made decisions/go to the toilet by yourself.’ Anything to deflect the feedback.
  • ‘If you think you can do my job better, why don’t you?’ Right, because that’s helpful.
  • ‘I hear what you’re saying, but…’ Really means, ‘Having taken no time to reflect on what you just said, I’m going to tell you why you’re wrong. When I said, “I hear what you’re saying,” I meant that purely in the literal sense. I heard the sounds, but I don’t agree with any of your comments. I will now proceed to tell you why I reject all of it.’
  • ‘You don’t understand…’ Variation on above. 
  • ‘What you’re forgetting is…’ Variation on above.
  • ‘You’re just saying that because you don’t like me.’ Yeah, putting it back onto the other person. Best defence is offence kind of thing. 
  • ‘You just want me to fail.’ Ditto. Accusing the other person of suspect motives is really helpful in this context.
  • ‘I didn’t ask you for feedback.’ Yeah, that’s part of the problem.
  • ‘Are you going to fire me?’ Slight overreaction.

How about this for an alternative set of responses:

  • ‘I hadn’t thought about that.’
  • ‘Nobody’s ever mentioned that before, I had no idea.’ 
  • ‘Can you tell me more so I understand better what you’re saying?’
  • ‘Thank you, I might not like it, but I appreciate your honesty.’
  • ‘Did you have any thoughts on what options I might have to do it better next time?’

Here’s a thought. Let’s assume the feedback is fair and accurate and delivered in a reasonable way. The first bunch of recipients are probably not going to learn very much from what they haven’t got quite right. The second lot are probably going to get better at what they do.

Right, so that’s work. There’s no easy way to say what I have to tell you know. You have no idea. What you think of as difficult feedback at work? Chickenfeed.

Try this. You spent a very long time writing a book. And editing it. And editing it again. And seriously, it’s good. You just know it is. And then you actively seek a full-blown professional review, with feedback. And there’s a lot of feedback. I mean, almost 25 pages of it. And it’s everything you need to sort/change/do differently.

There is only question. What are you going to do about it? Make the d@&$ book better, of course. Once, that is, you have mentally gone through every one in the first list above, even the ones that make no sense at all, just in case. Then you realise that yes, this is what you asked for, yes, it’s helpful, and yes, on reflection, it’s nothing you didn’t already know, you just didn’t know it applied to your book. But you know what? As well as marking every single thing you need to sort, you also highlighted the other bits, and these are the little bits tucked away which you go back to when you run out of things to smash against the wall:

‘You have a stylish literary voice… you have talent and should be very proud of having created such an intelligent and often moving novel…I don’t often feel an author has the potential to play at this level.’

So apart from halving the length, taking out two of the main characters, cutting the bits you liked the most and restructuring the whole thing, nothing to be done, really.

So one room in the house looks like this:

(no, that didn’t help either, or going for walks, or a long drive in the car), and the girls aren’t dancing until this is sorted! Nor, by the way, am I going to be sleeping very much. Or writing blogs. Oh well, maybe that, then. 

Feedback? Pah, who wants that?

Getting down to business

Tomorrow I will have worked through the second full edit of my novel. In the process, I’ve cut over 50,000 words, and there is still more work to be done. I have a list of things I need to go back and change. From hunting and destroying words I use too often (‘just’ and ‘veneer’ are top of the list, who knew?), turning weak verbs (think ‘walk’) into stronger ones (‘stride’, ‘pace’ etc) and re-writing some earlier scenes. Again. They just don’t work at the moment. I probably need to go for yet another run to see if I can sort them out.

Then I get to the business part of this undertaking. Obviously it’s the best novel ever written, but until I have James Patterson on the phone begging me not to knock him off his usual Number 1 slot on the bestseller list, all it’s doing is sitting as a file on my laptop (and backed up in three different places).

So. Find an agent? How do I do that, then? Or go straight to a publisher so I can start my own collection of rejection letters? Or self-publish, because that seems to work for some people?

Hmm… lots to think about. I’ve deliberately held off spending much time on these questions because it would just have been a distraction before now, but it feels like it’s about to be the right time to get stuck into it.

While I’m doing that, I think what I also need is a second, different, external professional ripping-to-shreds of the whole thing. This draft is a lot better than the last one, but is it good enough? If you look at the people authors thank at the end of their books, there’s almost always an editor in there. And I’ve heard enough authors say at book events that their books are only as good as they are because they have a great editor. And after all this time, what’s a few more weeks to wait? Plus I can get cracking on the next book for a ‘break’ from this one.

It’s beginning to sound like a plan.