Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting Feedback

Feedback and editing are essential to the success of any story or novel. It does not always come easily to writers, so you need to look for it and get it where you can. My experiences in this area have been hit and miss. I began paying attention to this aspect of the writing process after I had revised my novel for the umpteenth time. Suddenly I realized what I needed was feedback from a group of people. Up until then I was getting feedback from people who had agreed to read my work, friends and co-workers mostly. But getting them to agree made me feel like I had just sold a family member a used car. The other problem was the quality of the comments wasn't always the best. As time went by I got better at identifying people who could help and get there assistance but then I was suffering from a death of a thousand cuts.

What I needed was a quality feedback all at once so I could take my medicine and be done with it. (This, of course, it a fallacy. You're never really done until the thing is published and even then you aren't done because the book takes on a life of its own, but I digress) So I began looking for writer groups. At first I couldn't find any where I live, even though I live outside a major city on the East Coast.

So I went online to look. Here I found all sorts of web sites, online communities usually, and I tried a few and found the quality varies. Sometimes I got good feedback and sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I didn't get any feedback at all. Most often I found the site needed to provide a way to have the user locate material easily. They also needed to encourage giving feedback. Depending on the site, they succeed or fail to varying degrees.

Then friends pointed me to a few local resources. There were in fact writer groups in my area I just hadn't been able to find them. I tried to join a few and was rebuffed. Why? Because my writing wasn't up to their standards. Frankly, I cringed at the thought. Who were they to stand in judgement of me? Worse still they did not give specific examples what was wrong with my work from the sample they had me submit in order to join. They just said my writing was juvenile, take some writing classes, and come back in a year.

Well, more than a year has passed and I've not gone back. Frankly I don't need that attitude. So I tried starting a group myself. I found people willing to attend and we had a few meetings one autumn but the group dissolved by New Year's.

Since then a friend on Facebook pointed me to It turns out there are hundreds of meetings happening all the time (who knew?) and some are in my area and of interest. But I finally came to realize, I'm not a joiner. Writing is a solitary act and that's probably one of the reasons I like it so much. That is changing slowly thanks to all the social network software flying around these days.

So how do I get feedback? Well, as luck would have it, my wife is an awesome proofreader. She has no interest in my genre but for straight copyediting she can't be beat.

For other types of feedback I have friends who are willing to help here and there, which I use for final drafts. Otherwise, give yourself time. Put the story you've written away for a period of time and then go back to it with fresh eyes. The other trick I have learned is to wear the editor's hat when needed. This is harder to do because your story is your child and you love it right down to the misplaced comma and split infinitive.

I've also learned to be dispassionate and edit looking first for logic errors and later for consistency errors. Then I look at dialogue and description. I usually have to go over a scene multiple times before I get it right.

This doesn't really replace the need for a writing group or another pair of eyes to read your work but it's a good start. 

The other thing to know is not all edits are equal. When you give your work to someone else be specfic about what you want. Typically you want a hard edit to show you where the story stalls or is weak. Anything else is a waste of time and effort.