How to handle feedback

6:48 PM


The feedback is in.

Well, some of it at least, and just as I anticipated, there was a LOT of ink all over that manuscript. In fact, I suspect several blue and green pens were harmed in the making of those edits. The edits change from green to blue and then to another shade of blue. Like soldiers on the front line, the pens went down, one after the other, until all that was left was dear, sweet turquoise, who managed to finish the job.

So here I sit, in the Post-Edit Apocalypse, feeling completely overwhelmed by the work required to hack this baby up and reconstruct it in a manner that would be more pleasing, more entertaining, more emotional, more everything.

The general vibe is that it needs to be bigger. Higher stakes, more conflict. If my novel were a dish being served up on Masterchef, Matt would fold his arms and stroke his chin, George would make that pained puppy dog face and Gary would throw his spoon down with a clatter. "It has all the elements," they would say, "but something is missing. It needs more crunch, more salt, more umami! And your plating skills? Come on, you can do better than that!"

I'll tell you what it needs less of. Adverbs. It turns out I'm the Adverb Queen! Despite being aware that adverbs are a Big No-No in writing (right up there with 'telling not showing', another No-No at which I clearly excel), dozens of the bastards slipped through my obviously piss-weak self editing process. (and there I go again with an 'obviously' and a 'clearly' in one sentence, not to mention a 'completely' further up - I need an adverb intervention!)

So now the tricky bit is to identify the umami, that elusive 'fifth taste', and somehow reconstruct the novel to incorporate just the right amount of it.

But where to start? After getting the feedback, I was like one of those butterflies you see flitting around the garden, briefly alighting on this or that blade of grass, skittish, aimless.

Butterfly needs to focus!

Here's the plan.


First up, I've gone back to basics and am doing some active reading in the genre in which I'm writing. Instead of reading the big page-turning blockbusters as a greedy reader, I've been nit-picking through their structures. How do they open? What, precisely, is the thing that hooks me straight up? Is it a particular character? The story premise? A quirky plot development? How does each chapter end? What drives me to read the next chapter, and the next?

I haven't done this sort of reading since university and wonder when I lost the skill. It's been a revelation and is giving me lots of ideas on how to restructure each chapter so they leave the reader wanting to the next page. I love my characters, but I need to show you more of them so you will love them too. I want you to really care about what happens to them and I think I can do that better.


I didn't plan this novel. I'm what they call a 'pantser'. In other words, I wrote it by the seat of my pants. I had an opening line and a vague idea of where I wanted the two main characters to end up, but absolutely no idea of how I was going to get them there. The current structure reflects the drifty, haphazard way in which it was written. This dish can have all the umami in the world, but if I upend the whole thing onto a plate, with no care for how it's shaped, I'm going to get puppy dog face from George. The 'plating up' is the thing. Assembly of the elements! That is, structure, character, story, plot. How do I make it all come together for my reader's pleasure?

So I've turned to the experts, specifically Stephen King and Fiona McIntosh. Here are the two books I'm currently putting dog-ears in:

How To Write Your Blockbuster - Fiona McIntosh

On Writing - Stephen King

There's so much great stuff in these two books, information that I am now ready for. I've read and listened to so many great books and podcasts on the craft of writing but I've come to realise you need the right information at the right time, otherwise you're not going to take it in. These two books are giving me exactly the kind of practical information I need to mould this next draft into a better book.


If you've chosen the right beta readers, you'd be crazy not to take their feedback on board. I've been really lucky to choose great readers, two of whom are published authors and one of whom is a brilliant book reviewer. They know how to zero in on a plot hole, tell you what to do with an underdeveloped character, and can spot (and kill!) an adverb at fifty paces.

They take 'active reading' to a whole new level and have the dead pens to prove it!

Their job is not to nit-pick or criticise, but to show me how my humble, flawed manuscript can reach its potential. They come from an honest desire to see my work improve, for me to learn, indeed flourish, as a writer.

I need to go through their feedback, page by painful page, and decide how to incorporate it into the next draft.

So here I go, back to the kitchen with my imperfect dish and a whole bunch of shiny new implements to make it better.

Book appetit!

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