Writer Wednesday: Fresh Eyes

As writers, we should all be aware of the importance of feedback on our work. Over the past couple of weeks, it’s become obvious to me that some writers have no idea of how crucial constructive criticism is, or how to find it.

I see it over and over on writing communities. A new member posts about how everyone loves their writing so much, so why won’t agents agree to represent it, editors agree to publish it, readers buy it, and myriad other such questions. After a few pointed questions from others, the new member reveals that the readers who loved her work were all friends or relatives.

There’s a secret that takes some of us a while to learn – friends and relatives aren’t usually the best people to listen to for honest opinions of our work, for several reasons. They like us – or they should – so they’re likely to say they love it no matter what, to keep from hurting our feelings. They may not be readers of the genre we write, so the brilliance, or lack thereof, of our writing might escape them; they may not even read very much at all. They probably aren’t writers, so the finer points of writing craft will escape them – which is perfectly fine when we no longer need feedback that tells us why things aren’t working and how to fix them.

What’s a writer to do then? Find a way for other writers to critique your work. For some of us, it’s a real-life writing group in our local area, with regular meetings, where member work is critiqued by the group. The method has limitations, but is perfect for some. Getting a large piece of writing can take a very long time this way, as each member has a turn to have work looked at. It can be several weeks between having a chapter critiqued, and the group seeing the revisions. And your work may not be compatible with the group due to skill level or content.

If you’re like me, you might have to drive 2 or more hours to reach a group that will consider your work. The ladies group of the local church encourages its members to write, but I just can’t see them comfortably critiquing my Paranormal Romances with explicit sex scenes. “Mrs. Jones, how do you think Ardrianna will react when King licks her … you-know-where? Would she moan, arch off the bed, bite her lip… Mrs. Jones, are you okay?” as Mrs. Jones slumps from her seat onto the floor. Riiight. Not happening.

In that case, you’re pretty well limited to the internet – which is a fantastic limit to have. Imagine having no access to anyone outside your immediate community for feedback. The opportunities are extensive online to find readers qualified to critique your work and help you improve it.

I started out by posting a short passage on the Share Your Work section of a tiny little writing community, and read and commented on other members’ work. They returned the favor. There was one writer whose work I really liked, and she liked mine. We decided to exchange a few chapters and critique them for each other. It wasn’t long before we were established Critique Partners (CPs) working closely on both our stories. A couple of other writers occasionally joined us, then went their way when they had helped us and we had helped them. Now, A. and I are best friends, and still CPs. Both of us have grown exponentially in skill as writers and as critiquers – we often crit other writers’ work. Our skills, both in writing and critting, complement each other. We both seek other feedback as needed, but we always return to work together.

That path is but one of many possibilities. When you’ve found someone you think you might like to work with as CPs, how do you approach it? And how do you critique another writer’s work? In the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring these questions, and more, about giving and receiving constructive criticism, and putting it to work. Keep checking back for updates in the Writer Wednesday Critique Series.

What’s your experience with constructive feedback, giving or receiving? Have you found someone you can work with on a regular basis? What works best for you, if you’ve tried more than one way? If you had the opportunity, would you change anything?

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3 responses to “Writer Wednesday: Fresh Eyes

  1. Thanks for sharing this!

    LOL @ the description of the church ladies critiquing your paranormal romances! One of my friends went through a similar experience; she’s been working on her (sex-free, AFAIK) fantasy novel since forever, so she brought in a few excerpts to the first formal meeting of this writing group she found at her neighborhood community center in LA. Long story short, nobody in the group got any of her references to the French Revolution – they still had to ask her questions about the Bastille and Marie Antoinette and whatnot. That was her last session with the writing group, and she moved on.

    As for my own experience, I tend to rely on online friends/acquaintances to review my work more than my close friends, who know my writing too well to give any substantial critique. Occasionally I would let a non-writer look at my work too, just to get an idea of how it would read to someone else, but it’s a rare occurrence for me.

  2. Hi Stella!

    Glad to see you here! I live in such a conservative community, seriously, churches outnumber all the businesses, combined! Of course, that isn’t saying a lot, since we have so few businesses now. Still, it’s a LOT of churches for such a small town.

    I’ve had nightmares about the ‘Mrs. Jones’ thing really happening, LOL. I don’t mind sharing some of my more mainstream work locally, but definitely not my paranormals.

    You’re so right about close friends and family knowing our writing too well to give a useful critique. They’re either too familiar with our story, and overlook all the necessary details that get left out, or they’re just so blown away that they know a writer (funny how many people think writers are so different from everyone else), that they say they love everything we write – even if it’s so incoherent they can’t understand it.

    Thanks for stopping by!
    Kenra

  3. Pingback: Writer Wednesday: Putting It All Together |

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