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?