How I Tackle Revisions: Synthesizing Feedback

Yesterday I received comments from the last of my second round readers (thanks, ladies!). I’m itching to jump right in and start revising, but I am forcing myself to take a few days to think through it all and figure out a plan of attack before I dig in. I’ve posted on patience before (here, here), so you all know that is AGONIZING for me, but I’ve assigned myself another task to keep me busy the rest of this week, so I will prevail!

I was sure I’d posted before on how I approach feedback, but the closest I found was a post on Solving the Revision Puzzle, which was more about how getting feedback from multiple CPs helped me figure out how to revise. It’s possible I may find whatever post I’m remembering later, or maybe I’m just thinking of posts I’ve seen from other writers since this is a popular topic :). Anyway, here are the questions I ask when I receive feedback. And let me preface this by saying that I’m talking about big-picture issues here, not the minor issues that you automatically fix.

Does this comment resonate with what I want the story to be?

This is the most important question, and it’s both the easiest and hardest to answer.

It’s easy to answer when I read a comment and automatically think, “Yes! How did I miss that?”

It’s also easy to answer when the suggestion would take my story in a direction I absolutely don’t want to go. To be honest, that rarely happens. More often, it’s something I have to really think about, and more questions arise:

  • Would making this change modify the story in a way that it won’t be what I want it to be?
  • How attached am I to this character/POV/setting/age/plot point/etc.? Do I need it?

For the purposes of this post I’m going to use my one of my earlier manuscripts, DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN, as an example. I had a reader who suggested I eliminate a character and gave some valid reasons for it. However, I thought the character was important to the forward momentum of the story and I couldn’t see another way to make it work. Besides, I liked that subplot, so the suggestion didn’t resonate with me. Was it the right call? It doesn’t matter, because I was so resistant to the suggestion, I couldn’t have made it work.

This isn’t the only time I’ve decided not to act on a comment after careful consideration. Sometimes that’s what’s best for my story. None of my CPs or readers will be offended if I don’t implement one of their suggestions. I know I wouldn’t be. Ultimately it won’t serve me well to turn it into something I don’t like or can’t own.

On the other hand, it does serve me well to consider comments that might stretch my comfort zone without going beyond parameters I can accept. So back to DUET: I had an agent who said they would take another look if I aged it up to young adult. That one gave me pause, because changing it to YA would not affect the central story I wanted to tell, and I wasn’t tied to it being middle grade. So that led to the next question:

Will this change make the story better?

Here’s my philosophy: if the suggestion doesn’t conflict with my vision and I don’t see any immediate problems that will arise as a result, I try it. The worst that can happen is I end up going back to the earlier version. (Scrivener makes this very easy to do!) In the case of DUET, I think aging it up was the right change, even though I didn’t find the right agent fit (the agent who requested the R&R stopped agenting).

So that’s my progression for deciding whether or not to make a change. But often when I know I need to make a change, the hardest question is:

How do I fix this?

Sometimes I know right away what I need to do. The comments alone are enough to make a light bulb go off in my head with the various scenes I need to attack to fix the issue. Other times I have to sit and think about it, maybe for hours or maybe for days (hopefully not for weeks!).

For example, with my current manuscript my first round readers were unanimous about a major change I needed to make. To be honest, it was one of those things I’d held onto that I had a feeling wasn’t going to work, so when they said it had to go, I already had a plan in mind. But with this second round, there were some comments from the early responders that I’ve been mulling over while I waited for the final reader, and I’ve needed that time to figure out how I want to approach them or even if I want to (going back to my first question).

What’s next?

Now that I have all of the comments, I can compare and see where they line up to help me decide what to do. And the nice thing is revision doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. If I have an idea and I’m not sure, I’ll go back to my readers and say, how about this? Would this resolve x? CPs and betas are generally happy to help brainstorm a solution or clarify a point. Sometimes they’ll even read again to see if my solution worked.

Once I’ve synthesized all the comments from this round of readers, I’ll do this all over again with another set until I think the manuscript’s ready to go out into the world. But that’s another post :).

How do you tackle feedback? Any other tips to add?

Other How I Tackle Revisions posts:

Responses to “How I Tackle Revisions: Synthesizing Feedback”

  1. Susan Jennings

    Great advice and perfect timing. I am beginning to work on the first round of suggestions from the willing souls who agreed to read my manuscript. Some comments resonated with doubts I had had but some took me totally by surprise. If it was only one comment I was prepared to discard it, but after reading your blog I think I will ponder the alternatives. This my first novel and it is so different to short stories. Thank you. Susan

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Hi Susan. I’m glad my post was helpful. I think it’s especially hard to figure out what to do with feedback on your first novel. I know it was for me. It’s gotten easier with each manuscript, but I still receive comments that I have to think about long and hard. Good luck with your revisions!


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