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?

Story Forge – Nope

Back in October when I was prepping for NaStoWriMo, I thought I had a method for taking story ideas and turning them into full stories. I was going to call it my Story Forge and share that process. I did find a method. It worked for maybe two stories.

In the course of writing fifteen story drafts, I found nearly as many ways to work ideas into something readable. Some are still little more than vague ideas after writing three or four thousand words of description, plot, and action. I still need to find the real story in those.

The story forge has become more like a story reveal. If there is any commonality in the process, it is this: story emerges as you write. You may think you have it all worked out but when you put characters on a page and have them interact with things something else develops. The story is revealed through the writing and revision process.

Fifteen stories is not a lot of experience. Still, it has shown nothing but diverse methods of finding a story contained within an idea. The only conclusion I can draw so far is that a story will reveal itself through writing and revision.

Picking Up the Workshopped Novella

A couple of months have passed since putting my novella Privilege and Longing through the Writing the Novella Workshop. The workshop experience was great, the feedback invaluable, and a camaraderie was created that has so far lasted beyond the workshop. But now comes the work. It is time to review the feedback and incorporate the best of it into the story.

Others have already edited or re-written the works they presented. I may be the last to do so. Partly, this was due to getting caught up in a shiny new project. Partly it was due to completing some short stories for submission. But the truth is, it is not easy to sit down to re-work something that has been so thoroughly analyzed.

I loved the feedback. Most of it was positive and does need to be incorporated to make my story stronger. But how do I know which suggestions work and which ones might be good ideas but don’t contribute to making the story stronger? It will take a lot of digging, trying things on the page, re-reading, and thinking. That’s the work that gets stories completed.

So the next few weeks I will be re-opening the innards of the story and performing surgery. Hopefully the patient will fully recover.