When you finally send your work out into the world to be read, you have to be prepared for what will come back (if you ask for feedback). Depending on who reads it and what sort of reader they are, feedback can range from generic (“It was fine.” “I couldn’t really get into it.”) to the specific (“This line confused me.”).
Good or bad, the first thing to recognize about feedback is that it’s coming from somewhere. It may be instinctual to get defensive and to argue against what someone has said, but before doing this, realize that they’re saying it for a reason. If something confused them, it means they were jarred out of the story at that moment and couldn’t get a grasp on what was going on. It doesn’t mean you have to throw the whole section out—maybe even a single line or word change could help to clarify.
And the second thing to understand is that you don’t have to do anything. You can leave that section confusing if that’s what you want. Maybe you feel that this specific reader just didn’t quite grasp what you were going for, or has opinions you don’t share, and that’s okay. Ultimately, it is your story and it has to be what you want it to be.
Professional feedback may be a little different; but that’s a whole other issue.
Feedback of all kinds, from overall to specific, from positive to negative, is incredibly useful. It can point out things you missed because you are writing it and have the whole story in your head, which a reader doesn’t. For example, I have a habit of letting my character’s dialogue trail off, which I find more realistic; sometimes this works fine, but other times, it might make sense to me because I know what they’re not saying—when a reader won’t. So that’s something that I need someone else’s opinion to diagnose.
One last thing about feedback—if you’re going to trust the negative, you have to trust the positive too. It’s a natural feeling to take the negative opinions to heart and agonize over them, but dismiss any positive feedback as lies and coddling. Whether or not any positive feedback is coddling, the only way to a healthy attitude towards feedback is to trust your reader to tell you the truth. You don’t have to do everything they suggest or address every one of their complaints, and just because they like it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to do well, but you have to take all the feedback with the same mixture of understanding and distance.
Because the next round of readers is going to really challenge your confidence… the publishing industry.