While I'm in the midst of editing War of Loyalties, I'm thinking a lot about feedback. Not only has my most recent round of feedback been from my editor, but over the years, I've also gotten feedback from a lot of generous people who looked at various drafts of the book. All of that has been a necessary ride, and I've been treated with kindness by each person that has looked over my work. I'm so grateful for them all. But many times other people's kindness and competency sometimes had to filter through my own hangups, and I thought it might be worth while to talk about how to deal with insecurity and shame in receiving feedback.
We're in this together. *group hug* *minky blankets for all*
The vulnerability of creativity has always been a challenge for me. I am constantly torn between my desire to share my work almost immediately with whoever wants to read it, and the strange feeling I get when a piece of my work is critiqued. I'm not even talking about a bad kind of critique. Just the good kind, when you send it and ask people to tell you what worked and what didn't.
When I click send on a piece of work, whether it's to friends or beta readers, I generally click it in a moment of desperation, just throwing it out there before I can think about it. Once it's out of my hands, I can forget about it until they write back--and even if I know it still has mistakes in it, I'm still eager to see what they will think of it.
But when feedback returns to the inbox, especially when I know it's feedback that points out mistakes, I have a reaction that is hard to put into words. It's not hyperventilating. But a couple of times, it has been scrolling through critiques while reading as fast as I possibly can, like diving into a cold swimming pool to get over the shock of how the water feels. I skim through them and close out--hide the papers--shut it all away until my system can balance out and return to them with some degree of objectivity. Then I come back a few days later and read the comments more slowly, actually weighing the improvements that need to be made.
I have a few parts of my work that strike me with so much embarrassment I don't try to remember them too often. When I come back to those edits, I feel physically repelled--like when you put two magnets together and you can feel the force driving them apart. The magnet of shame and the magnet of the critique drive me apart so strongly that it can take a long time to fix that portion of work.
So how does one silence the inner screaming in those times?
1. There is no shame in asking someone to fix your work.
Somehow, deep inside, there must be a lie niggling away at authors telling them they should have been able to do this whole thing themselves if they just tried harder. That's simply not true. A good piece of work can't be produced alone. It must be thrown out into the artistic community, discussed, and put through the filter of other people's perspectives to cover the blind spots we carry. It will always be better and more expensive, with bigger heart, when you have the additional ingredient of other people's perspectives and feelings and questions to take it beyond what you could do on your own.
The trick is to find good artistic community. When you know that the group of people who are tearing your work apart are, at their core, on your team, you can survive it. Throughout all the years of working on War of Loyalties, I have been blessed with critique partners and an editor who have been kind even while sometimes having to give very tough critiques. Hard knocks lead to growth, if only I can let it.
Sometimes shame comes from the fear that we should have known better, and people will think we're lacking in some way. It's so hard for me to remember: just because you feel ashamed of your mistakes doesn't mean for a moment that your artistic community feels ashamed of you. You're learning. That's acceptable. You made mistakes. That's acceptable as well. No one will fault you for that. You can't even start walking or get through school without the try and fail and try again process. Mistakes and critiquesares the perfectly natural and normal progression of trying to publish a book or create a piece of art.
2. You'll like the next result much, much better.
Facing your mistakes is the bitter taste that later turns to sweet. As you acknowledge and fix them, you start feeling a sense of relief. "That problem my story always had--it's getting better now." "I never knew what to do with that, and now I can make it clearer." "I really like this new scene--it shows instead of telling." "I can face people with my work more confidently now that this is fixed." It is hard to face mistakes, and there are moments of needling self-doubt, but all in all, I love the better final product that comes from the feedback others have given me.
It's a sweet relief, because, deep down, we all know our work has flaws. The best antidote to that is not hoping that other people won't notice them, but getting help to fix them. The relief of fixing something is much more lasting than the relief of hoodwinking people about your weak spots. So lean into critique. It's on your side.
3. Remind yourself this draft is better than the last one. And the next draft will be better still.
I always like to sigh with relief when I get a round of feedback and think "At least they didn't see the draft before this one." All of us have those drafts stashed away. ;) Some of the scenes in the first, handwritten draft of War of Loyalties would make me break out in a sweat if anyone saw them. (No one is ever going to see the scene where one character transports luggage to the train station.) They can be quietly lost in oblivion. What you've shown people is better than the first draft, times one thousand. *sigh of relief* What you write next, will be even better still. You'll get to live that feeling of excitement and having done a good job all over again, and that feeling never grows old.
4. Turn on some music to distract the brain while you fix it.
So here's what you do. If you're sitting in a chair, writing a blog post and procrastinating, instead of facing your work and fixing it (like I was last night) then turn on Spotify, pick a really loud and fast piece of music, (or any music, really) and let that music distract your mind while you sit down and get to business.Or text a friend and tell them your dilemma so they can keep you company while you write. Sometimes the faster you face and fix a mistake, the less painful it is. Don't stop. Don't get bogged down in it. Don't wallow in the shame. Take someone's hand, get back up, and throw your whole heart into improving it just like you threw it into creating in the first place.
The Hidden Pride in Shame
Here's the artistic sweet spot: if you can dive down into the deep pool of emotion and throw that into your work with all the authenticity you can muster--if you can put your beating heart on the page--and yet have enough humility to give it to someone whose honesty you respect and ask them to show you how to make it better--then you can make it.
So I must learn, somehow in all of this, that shame is pride. There is humility in quietly accepting that my work has errors and I need help in fixing them. And I must learn that the wrong kind of strength can be pride as well. It is humility to admit that my self-mustered tenacity is sin, and I need a different kind of strength entirely.
So gratefully lean into critique, and forge ahead into allowing that critique to make your work a better thing. Pray for a humble spirit to accept the advice that you receive. Rely on God-given strength. Take a deep breath before you open that feedback.
And then get to work and make your book better than you ever thought it could be.