Writers have often expressed to me that one of the most daunting tasks they deal with is sifting through all the various feedback they receive from those who review their work. Yet, taking that feedback, digesting it and applying it to the project, platform building, novel and career in general is a successful writer’s best practice. Writers today are faced with multitudes of opportunity in publishing. From freelancing to scoring regular columns and from self-publishing (in any format) to traditional publishing, the savvy writer collects not only info on publishing trends but carefully considers feedback from their peers and professionals about their work. Yes, the publishing world, no matter the avenue, is competitive, but hasn’t it always been? Getting the edge you need to succeed and be read is crucial. Receiving valuable feedback from trusted authorities is not only a good idea, it’s your professional compass.
So what is feedback, exactly and what does all this have to do with Confidence, the virtue we’re focusing on this month? Feedback is a response you receive from your actions. The action in this context is your writing. Feedback can either be positive or negative. When you receive positive feedback, you know you’re on the right track. You know you can keep doing what you’ve been doing and the response will be positive. When you receive negative feedback, (I’d like to think of this as constructive criticism), it’s your choice to either adjust your work based on this feedback or ignore it. Positive or negative, this feedback is your guide. Like a compass, it directs you toward making the necessary changes your work needs to be better or by letting you know you are so on track. And don’t you love the feeling of being on track?! I can think of no better confidence boost. When you feel confident you’re moving forward with the best work possible, success will follow.
I asked Canadian award-winning speaker and author, Doreen Pendgracs how harnessing the power of feedback has helped her succeed and grow more confident in her career. Here’s what she had to say:
When I was taking the Creative Communications Program at Red River College in Winnipeg (from 1990-92) I hadn't really thought of a freelancing career as I was employed by a large insurance corporation and was only attending the classes for upgrading purposes. Who knew that a year after completing the program I would be embarking on a freelance writing career? I never would have had the courage or determination to leave the comfortable safety of corporate life had it not been for an instructor at the college who told me straight out, "You are not good at news writing as you're too opinionated. So focus on magazine work as that's where your natural talent lies." I never forgot those words of wisdom. Had I tired to stick to a "Just the facts" style of writing, I would have been swimming up stream throughout my career. But focusing on non-fiction feature writing allowed me to bring my personality into my work, and to eventually apply that style to the writing of non-fiction books.
TLC: It’s important for writers, especially those just beginning, to heed the advice of professionals who’ve long been in the field. As an agent, I very frequently read work from “green” authors whose voices were still developing…there seemed to be this trend with those fresh out of college to write very edgy and melodramatic fiction. The result was the same; it all sounded forced and inauthentic. The point? You can’t force a style that doesn’t work for you. Your writing style and voice is organic; it’s a part of you. When a professional offers you feedback about your writing voice, listen.
DP: Another important influencer in my professional life as a writer has been Toastmasters International. As a Toastmaster (and I think every writer should also belong to Toastmasters) we thrive on positive feedback and learning from growth points given by anyone evaluating our presentations. The same attitude applies to my writing. I always take whatever feedback is given and try and incorporate the suggestions or techniques in my writing. It is truly my belief that we can never get too good at anything we do. We must learn from what we've done right and what we may have done wrong (or not as good as we could have done) and continue to strive for growth and improvement. Fortunately for me, by following Mr. Harding's words of wisdom from the 1990's, I have been able to work in an area of writing in which I haven't faced any major rewrites or reworking of my style. It is indeed a good fit.
To complement that, I am very fortunate in that I love people and networking. So I belong to several writers organizations, I attend conferences whenever possible (there is a post about the power of networking on my blog at: http://doreenisthewizardofwords.blogspot.com/2010/05/power-of-networking-for-writers.html) and I seek interaction with like-minded individuals at every opportunity. That way I am always learning, always honing my craft and always striving for improvement. By harnessing the power of feedback, I am fueling my desire to engage readers with the most powerful impact possible, hoping that will draw them to seek out and return to my work again and again.
TLC: Right. Feedback isn’t just about craft, it’s about receiving and also giving information about your industry or genre by networking. Ideally, you want several trusted peers in the know to review your work once it’s complete. Their feedback is critical to your revision process before you start querying agents and editors. Even if you choose to self publish, don’t neglect this step. Just because you have a few less steps in the process doesn’t mean you have a great book. If you want sales reaching beyond your family and friends, you’ll want to make sure your book appeals to your target audience. You’ll set yourself up for the best success by seeking feedback, considering it and making the necessary adjustments to your work to make it the best it can possibly be.
Doreen Pendgracs’s features have appeared in a variety of print and online publications including: WEST, Canadian Geographic, Highways, RV Lifestyle, CAA/Going Places, DreamScapes, Winnipeg Life, ComFree Homes, Aquascape Landscapes, Hotelier, The Costco Connection, Your Office, My Winnipeg Business, Canadian Insurance, Your Convenience Manager, Your Foodservice Manager, Meetings & Incentive Travel, 55 Plus, German Life, The Cottager, The Manitoba Cooperator, Farmers' Almanac, www.vantagemagazine.ca, www.gonomad.com, www.travelwithachallenge.com, www.profitguide.com, and over the airwaves on CBC radio.As well, Doreen has co-authored two books: a travel guidebook on Canada's most easterly province: Frommer's Newfoundland & Labrador (April, 2004, Wiley), and more recently, the bestselling Manitoba Book of Everything, (October, 2008, MacIntyre Purcell). Before You Say Yes is Doreen’s latest book, just published in March 2010 by Dundurn Press. It serves as the ultimate guide to anyone sitting on a board of directors in the non-profit sector. To find out more about Doreen, visit http://www.wizardofwords.net/.
Your exercise this week: Head to your library or local book store and check out or buy Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. He devotes an entire chapter on feedback and why it’s so important to master and apply this principle for your overall success.
Have any feedback tips or stories to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I may share them with the group. Do you have any feedback for me? Let me know!
There really is so much I want to share about feedback, I couldn’t jam it into one blog. I’ll publish another blog mid-week to discuss the kind of feedback you’ll receive from agents and editors and what to do with it. Also, I’ll discuss the importance of finding a mentor and appropriate agent/writer “I just have a quick question” relationships.
Here's to a great week!