Leave Your Expectations At The Door

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of co-teaching at a local high school with Dave Amaditz, another All The Way YA contributor. At the end of the session we’d left time for Q&A and the questions rolled in…

question-1262378_1920They weren’t new. As an author, I hear versions of the same ones all the time. What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas? What’s the best piece of advice you have for a new author?

When we reached that last question, I prepared to give my standard answer. Join a writer’s group so you can get feedback on your work. Something I whole-heartedly believe in, by the way.

But then something happened. For the first time in a long time, I considered the question. What advice did I really want to give? Sure, writer’s groups are invaluable, and I’d consider myself lost with out the two I’m involved in now. But on that particular morning, I allowed myself to delve deeper. To consider my answer as a small sea of hopeful faces stared up at me.

Here’s what I told them.

“When it comes to feedback, leave your expectations at the door.” Now, I’m paraphrasing a little. Anyone who’s ever seen me speak knows that I get carried away in the moment. But that’s…the gist.

door-1168082_640

The hopeful faces crinkled, their evident confusion dimming their enthusiasm for a moment. So I explained further.

Whenever we offer up our work for critique, there is some part of us (even if it’s a minuscule part) that’s hoping our work will be deemed “perfect.” That the file we sent out, will return unmarked, with no follow up actions required on our part.

“Give up on that right now, because it’s never going to happen,” I said. Before you rush to comment on what a cruel author I am, give me a little more space to elaborate.

We talk about feedback being subjective on this blog all the time. Or at least I do. We all like what we like. Whether it’s music, books, food… Yet, once that marked-up file returns we cringe, we mope, and we either begin editing like a fiend or reach for the chocolate. And we forget that everyone has certain likes or dislikes. That not everyone is going to dig our particular story or style.

The problem for us writers is, that no matter how much we want that feedback, regardless of how much we ourselves seek it, there’s always that one, small part that’s hoping for crisp sheets of white, filled with compliments. As I said to those kids…

Give up on that right now, because it’s never going to happen.

creative-108545_640If you’ve given your manuscript to someone who knows their stuff.

If you’ve given your manuscript to someone whose goal isn’t to placate you, but to help you develop as a writer.

If you’re critique buddy meets those criterion, you’re going to get feedback. Every time. And in almost every case, the more feedback you get, the better the writer you are.

Even if you have a polished manuscript that you’ve rewritten two hundred times and edited just as much, you’re going to get feedback.

Think about how much time we waste figuring that all out for ourselves. Imagine if we reset our expectations and welcome that feedback with open arms.

That’s why I told these kids to leave their expectations at the door. When you know that feedback is coming and you’re waiting for it, expecting it, and you own it when it does show, that you’ll continue to take steps along your continuing journey as a writer.

Let me boil this all down for you. The next time you send your writing out to a critique group or partner, or beta readers, or the kid down the street, reboot your expectations. They are going to have feedback for you.

So take a deep breath, press Send, and wait for the track changes to come. And leave your expectations (and your muddy boots) at the door.

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6 Comments on “Leave Your Expectations At The Door

  1. This is perfect advice! Though I’m currently on sabbatical from writing, I have years and years of time with critique groups and partners and when I was able to take in feedback without any of my own internal noise and baggage (a.k.a expectations), the feedback was far more useful. This is AWESOME advice for all writers, seasoned and just starting out!

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  2. I really like this advice and I agree with it whole-heartedly. I think there are some situations in which it’s certainly okay to ask only for compliments (everyone has bad days), but generally I find even constructive criticism more uplifting. To know that someone sees the potential of the story and cares enough to help me reach it is simply wonderful. I don’t want someone to tell me my writing is perfect–perfect is boring. Tell me how I can be dynamic and make it better.

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