Finding Feedback

I have been on a small journey lately. All writers need feedback. But not just any feedback. Friends and family who are not authors or editors, can only give a general review representing a general reader’s experience. I find the most useful things you can expect from this first-read are: encouragement, a sense the story is complete or not (i.e. has a beginning, middle, and end), and if certain characters are likeable (identified with) or not. Each of these things is helpful and can point out basic story problems that will haunt the story no matter how lovely the prose becomes. But for each of the things that didn’t work, the family/friend reader cannot help.

A writer needs to know why something doesn’t work. Assuming the writer has reviewed, edited, even read the piece aloud several times, etc., we become blind to the faults. In fact, we may grow more enamoured of the piece the longer we work on it. Then, any critique becomes a crushing defeat.

The writer needs qualified feedback from editors, experienced writers, or agents.

For many writers, this kind of feedback comes from endlessly submitting stories or novels and hoping an editor or agent will make useful comments about why they rejected work. That’s a long, slow process to improve your writing.

Workshops with other writers, especially workshops run by pro-writers or editors, can be very helpful. I’ve done those, and the feedback was concrete and direct. But not all workshops work for all writers at all times. Workshops without strong guidance can leave a group of inexperienced writers no more enlightened than when they entered the workshop.

Critique groups and critique partners are another source of rigorous feedback. Again, the experience level of the participants needs to be strong.

Another but less common way to get good editorial feedback, is to submit to workshops and retreats that offer assessments to those not accepted. These critiques are often short and only cover a small excerpt, but usually written by professional writers, agents, and editors.

No matter how a writer gets feedback, they need it early and often right through the final copyedit before publication. The picture of an author writing isolated in a room or shack, never communicating with anyone, is mostly mythic. True only for the creation of a few drafts and edits.

If you’re a writer, what good critique experiences have you had?