Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Last week in my post Who Should Read Your Unpublished Work, we discussed how to select your beta readers or critique partners. We talked about the qualifications a reader might need to be able to give you useful feedback on your manuscript.
Today I’d like to take it a step further and talk about what kind of feedback you should be getting at various stages in the writing process. If you’re in a critique group or have a critique partner… if you regularly share your writing with someone who gives you suggestions for changes and corrections along the way… if you’re sharing pages of your work-in-progress (WIP) with someone who copyedits you along the way…
There may be too many cooks in your kitchen.
And you may be in danger of any number of pitfalls: losing your voice, losing your motivation, or getting STUCK.
I’ve had conversations with two authors recently who each told me they were “stuck” and needed my help. They couldn’t seem to move forward on their manuscripts. Careful digging on my part revealed that both of these authors were writing chapters, then allowing a writer/editor friend to look them over, offering critique and feedback. Sounds normal, right? Wrong. In both cases, the person offering the advice wasn’t clear on what type of advice is appropriate for an author working on the first draft of a creative piece.
Here’s what’s NOT appropriate:
Copyediting or line editing. That means: correcting grammar, punctuation, capitalization, redundancies, typos, format, specific word choices, awkward phrasings.
Here’s what’s appropriate to discuss in the first-draft stage:
Plot, characterization, dialogue, pacing, flow, scene-crafting, dramatic structure, hook, point-of-view, suspense, readability, author’s style and voice, general appeal and overall fiction technique. Basically: Is it a good story?
For non fiction:
Structure, clarity of ideas, logical flow, continuity, readability, transitions, author voice, clear and concise arguments and explanations, interest level and general appeal.
When you’re in the first-draft writing stage, you need to pay attention to big-picture issues.
Later, in revisions, you will worry about more detailed concerns.
If you get too concerned about a word here and a comma there, you risk becoming flat stuck in no time. It’s a left-brain, right-brain thing. Let those right-brain creative juices flow, unhampered by the logical, rational left-brain.
The right brain is known for looking at wholes, i.e. big picture. That’s where your creativity comes from. The left brain is characterized by looking at parts, i.e. tiny details. That’s where your ability to edit and rewrite comes from. Don’t try to do both at one time! That’s why you get stuck. Your right and left brain are tripping over one another.
I recommend critique partners and beta readers all the time.
What concerns me is when they’re not functioning in their intended manner. The members may not be aware of what level of feedback is necessary and appropriate at which stage of the writing process.
Evaluate your crit group and editorial helpers.
Determine if what they’re doing is helping you or hampering you. Decide if you can gently lead your partners in a more productive direction, or if you need to stop showing them your work. Sometimes all it takes is to clearly ask them for what you need: “I’m not interested in detail editing, I want to know what you think of my overall voice in these few pages and if you think the plot is headed in the right direction. How’s my character development? Am I maintaining your interest, or does it get boring?”
Often writers say things like, “My beta reader is an English teacher, and she’s great at grammar.” Grammar is terrific, but it’s not the focus of your first draft. You may want to rethink the choice of the English teacher for this stage of the game.
What kind of feedback are you getting from your critique partners or beta readers? Is it the appropriate feedback for your stage of writing?