Becoming-A-Writer Tip # 4: Feedback

Today’s topic is the lifeblood of artists: feedback.

noun: feedback
information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

Except for the rare person who writes solely for themselves and does not want outside input, the vast majority of writers should want and need feedback.  Why are we writing, after all?  To create an enjoyable story.  To improve our craft.  To get published.  To share with others.  To leave a legacy.   In all of these cases, feedback is essential to refining and perfecting our work.

I’m sure we would all admit that our first efforts, that first draft, is far from perfect.  Just as our view of ourselves is limited (you can’t even see your own back after all!), so our view of our own writing is limited.  We need the mirror of feedback to see flaws and possibilities for improvement.

What kind of feedback is there, and what kind should we seek?

           1. The Sounding Board

The first kind of feedback you should look for is what I’ll call your “sounding board”.  This could be one or several someones close to you that you bounce ideas off of.

Now, I know some writers just get an idea, write the whole story, and THEN let it see the light of day.

Not all of us work that way, however.  Bouncing ideas off your sounding board can be crucial in the early stages of your writing career when you have less experience at crafting a good tale.  Getting feedback on your ideas for plot and character from someone you trust, (and who’s willing to think critically about your ideas, then give constructive feedback) gives you a chance to see the flaws before you waste hours writing, only to scrap it later.

The novel I’m currently writing is in its third or fourth form from the original concept.  I was quite proud of my first “first” draft of section 1, about 25,000 words.  That is, until it was beta read and I realized I was writing like an angsty teenager, not a mature writer crafting a story.  I scrapped it, and went back to the drawing board.  I came up with a new synopsis and outline, which I discussed in depth with several people before I started writing again.  Their invaluable feedback helped me see the flaws in my story that I could sense were there, but couldn’t see and didn’t know how to fix.

           2. The Beta Reader

Now that I have a good story in the works, my continued ability to keep the story on track and write it well is due to my beta readers.  Beta readers are people you share your story with, either in part or in whole, who give feedback on the unfinished draft.  Most beta readers will give you content feedback (what they liked or didn’t like about the story).  Some will go so far as to give you line-editing feedback (editing the spelling/grammar for you).

I am truly blessed in my two main beta readers.  We have created our own little writing group.  Each of us is writing a novel, so we meet once a week to trade our latest chapters and give each other feedback.  This group has helped me tremendously, not only as a motivation to keep writing, but also to help catch plot flaws or weak parts in my story before I get too deep into them.

I highly recommend this method to every writer, but especially new ones.  Writing is a complex and delicate craft.  As with any skill, you can’t get good at it without constructive feedback on how it is now, and how it can be improved.

Not every idea you come up with is a good one.  That’s ok.  Don’t feel restricted in your creativity, knowing that some of what you create won’t be the best.  Use your sounding boards and beta readers to examine your story in the mirror of feedback, then refine and polish it into the masterpiece it deserves to be.

           3. Other kinds of feedback

There are other kinds of feedback, of course, but those kinds come mostly post-publishing.  The book reviews, the reader reviews, the chit-chat about your story on the web.  I won’t talk about that kind of feedback here, since my focus is on becoming a writer, and making that first book the best it can be before you publish it.

Some will disagree with my methods.  Maybe they would say a writer should be free to write completely for themselves the first draft, before showing it to anyone else.  To that I would reply: if it works for you, go for it.  I have found when I write that way, I waste a lot more time revising and rewriting my work than if I get feedback on my ideas beforehand, and during the writing process.

Another note: be careful who you ask for feedback.  It should be someone whose opinion you trust.  It should be a good mix of fellow writers, and friends who are in the market you are writing for (for instance, a teenage friend who likes scifi if you’re writing a YA scifi novel).  Though everyone’s feedback can teach you something, some should be given more weight than others.  Take criticism with a grain of salt.  Know your style of storytelling, and learn to differentiate between legitimate flaws, and when it’s just a matter of opinion.  In the end, YOU have to write your story.  Write what feels right, and don’t try to please everybody.

I hope this post has given you some ideas.  Maybe go out and form a writing group yourself!  If you’re looking to join a group, there are always lots of local writing organizations.  Do a google search for your area if you want to find a group to join.

Check out my beginner Becoming-A-Writer Tips here:

#1: Take notes

#2: Know Your Market

#3 A: Read Read Read!

#3 B: Write Write Write!

#4: Importance of Feedback

How to Write a Book 101

my How to Advance Your Writing Career series:

Part 1: Publish Short Stories

Part 2: Professional Development

Part 3: Social Networking

Your USEFUL ARTICLE for the week is an excellent exposition on the keys to good science fiction and fantasy storytelling, from the Writer’s Digest.

Have a great week!  And enjoy your weekly dose of cute: