I’ve been writing professionally for 29 years. First on TV and film and more recently as a novelist. The thing I’ve noticed lately is the increased use of ‘beta’ readers and feedback; as if each novel is now written by committee and not by a single author at all. I’ve fallen prey to this way of thinking myself. It’s very easy to get to a point where you just start to doubt everything you write and you reach out to someone, anyone, to confirm or deny that doubt and to put you back on the right path. Don’t get me wrong, feedback is important, but I’ve suffered at the hands of well-meaning reviewers, as I’m sure most have here, and it’s got to stop. Not the feedback, but the suffering. Here’s the thing: for the most part what you’re doing is giving your baby to total strangers to either nurture it or kill it stone dead. For me, there’s no middle ground. Feedback is either constructive or destructive and there’s a very very fine line between the two.
So, what do you do? Here’s my experience. I wrote quite a decent, even if I do say so myself, start to a new novel and, for the most part, it was well received. I got a couple of people say, change this, change that. Nothing major. I was happy to do it. I got a couple of people say, this is way off beam and you need to expand this here and expand that there. So, I do. No biggie. The problem came when, post amendments, people started saying that now there’s too much exposition. Now, they want to get to the story faster - and again, I’m happy to change things. I’m taking advice. I’m trusting these total strangers with my baby. Yesterday, I got a review that said that although it was well written, it was so convoluted and hap-hazard that it didn’t make any sense. Knee jerk on my part. ‘Yes it does’, I shouted. No it didn’t. A couple of hours later I completely axed all the changes I’d made since the first feedback came in. It wasn’t exactly the same as my original, but it was pretty damn close. I realised in that moment that what I’d really been looking for, when I’d reached out for feedback, was a belief in myself. That sounds like I don’t want feedback and that’s not what I’m saying. Feedback can be really good, but you have to temper it with a trust in your gut instinct. You know your story best. No one else. You are god in your universe. Believe it.