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Help*

I wrote this entry for the Amwriting blog in July 2012 and its really very relevant to what I’m doing now. In fact, this is the first project where I’ve sent something I’m quite happy with to someone else to read and provide feedback. Luckily, it was good feedback and so the experience was a bit of a relief. I need to broaden my approach though and get more feedback before I can be fully confident that its the best i can do.

 

The Amwrting blog is now archived, but there are a lot of great articles up there by lots of different authors. You should check them out: http:amwritingblog.com

 

I’d like to talk today about getting someone to critique your work, and how that can really help you on your journey.

Let me start off by saying that this is probably the part of the process that I am most apprehensive about and always have been. I’ve often thought to myself “Are you mad? Giving this to someone else to read before its ready? That’s crazy talk!”. Usually after this internal shoutologueTM I retreat with half of me vindicated and the other half defeated. However, no matter how the argument goes in my head, there is only one possible outcome: for my work to truly grow, I need to get someone to read it and give me feedback.

When you think about it, ultimately we want people to read our works, otherwise we wouldn’t be writing would we? Of course, some of us will be writing for the fun of it which is no bad thing, but if you have a story to tell, you want to tell it to someone else. At some point, that work will be out there and you will want it to be at its very best when you do release it into the wild, so once you are through with a first draft, or second or third post editing, doesn’t it make sense to take a small leap and let someone outside of your head have a read?

Believe me, its one of the things I have been most afraid of, and I did touch on that fear of failure in the last article on procrastination. It still holds true, perhaps even more so, in this scenario. There’s a fear that when you hand over the manuscript – or as I like to call it, the story so far – then you open yourself up to fail and the truth will out: you aren’t the writer you think you are.

But that’s nonsense, and I was going to get into why it was nonsense but it would derail the message here and its one for another time.

The truth – for me at least – is that up until this point in the creative process I am in total control and I feel that if I hand the story so far over to someone else to read, then I lose a bit of that control and I’ll never get it back. Boy, you should have heard the internal shoutologueTM that raged for what seemed like hours on the back of that one. Suffice it to say that in the end, the truth – for me at least – was that there is no way I can make that step change in growth as a writer, without letting someone else read my work.

It will be exactly that same for you.

Of course, giving into the logic is the easy part; finding the right someone to review the work is where it gets more tricky. Friends and family are usually at hand and willing, but there is one big reason why you may want to avoid them: they may not be as critical as you need them to be. They may be nervous in case negative feedback either knocks you off your stride, or drives a wedge between you both. Either way, they may be more cautious about their feedback, and as a result may not be true to themselves or you. However, they are the ones easily at hand, so my advise would be to sit down with them and explain the reasons why you are asking for a review and explain it needs to highlight areas for improvement as well as providing assurance that your writing is good. With some ground rules and promises that you’ll still see each other outside weddings and funerals no matter what is revealed, having someone close to you act as your reviewer can be beneficial.

Outside of your close circle may be a better option. Being a writer you are part of a global community, and there are tens of thousands of others just like you out there. You probably talk to a lot of them every day, and certainly you do interact sharing ideas and views as well as getting guidance and help. Many of the writing community are willing to provide the sort of helpful feedback that you need at this stage of your writing, so why not reach out to someone you have been communicating with to see whether they could read your work and provide feedback? Often, it will be someone who enjoys the same genres as you do, so they will know what to look for when reading your work and would be ideal as a reviewer. The only issue I can see is for them to find the time; everyone is, or should be, maxed out writing, so will they have time to read your work? I would say in the main yes they will, because by reading we learn how to improve our writing. As an added bonus, they could swap their work with yours and ask you to return the favour, so it’s a win/win situation.

This is your chance to test your work out on the intended audience and yes, there will no doubt be things you need to tweak or rewrite completely, but odds are a fair chunk will be good and your reader will derive some enjoyment from the experience. So, not only will you get some valuable pointers to help polish your work up, but you will also be able to get some satisfaction that you’re on the right track.

Look at it as being a freeing experience. After all of your hard efforts, you will be putting your work into someone else’s hands to review; your work will be out there for someone to read.

Oh, and don’t forget to check whether any of their comments make good quotes. You could stick them on the back jacket of the book.

 

* I had wondered whether to use an exclamation mark at the end of the title, but thought it was a tad extreme.

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