handling feedback

lake reflections

I’ve been thinking a lot about feedback and critique. It’s an invaluable part of preparing a manuscript for query and submission.

Definition time:

  • a manuscript is the unpublished version of a work that the author is hoping to publish – could be a play, a novel (in my case), or non-fiction
  • a query is when the author sends a letter and (usually) a portion of the manuscript to agent(s) in the hope one or more will offer to represent the author and her work
  • being on submission is when the agent (or the author directly – usually unsuccessfully) sends the work to editor(s) in the hope one or more will offer to purchase it for publishing

Writing needs to be edited. The first version of something is seldom rarely never as good as it could be. Whether it’s tightening up the language or a wholesale shift of the story arc or the character motivations, the book will be better for many editorial passes – and from more than just the author’s perspective.

This is true for debut authors and for long-established writers. (Although I suspect the experienced authors get better at finding and correcting their own mis-steps, it is human to be too close to our creative works to give them the most objective critique.)

Years ago, I was in a writing group – we shared and critiqued each other’s work. This was excellent at the time for developing my writing voice. I wasn’t ever working on anything as long form as a novel, so week to week, month to month, I brought different projects.

The novel I’m working on now is by far the most ambitious writing project I’ve had. It’s also the one I’ve been most committed to. I have no idea if this is destined to be published as a book, but that’s not the most important result. Creating this story is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and I am growing in the process – as a writer, of course, and as a human. This is an unanticipated joy.

(Don’t get me wrong – I very much hope to publish this story to share with a broad audience of readers.)

I’ve not brought this piece to a writing group. And it’s getting close to the point where I’m going to need more eyes on it than just mine. I have a few deeply trusted beta-readers who will give me my first feedback on the story – how does it read, are the characters relatable, does the plot hang together, etc.

I’m terrified and overjoyed at the prospect of this being real enough to share. This feels a little like a dark night of the soul. A bit swampy, surrounded by silhouettes that could be hauntingly beautiful or shady and menacing, rather like that photo above.

I’m taking comfort in thoughts on feedback from some of my writing heroes. (Yep, I picture each one in a cape. Even Neil Gaiman. All in black? I think that makes him Batman. I’m okay with that.)

Seth Godin – the generous skeptic and constructive feedback

Austin Kleon – feedback is great for

which is really similar to this from

Neil Gaiman – ten rules for writing fiction (scroll down a LOT to Neil Gaiman, I’m looking at his #5 for this)

or just skip right to the Neil Gaiman part, in a nice graphic (still referring to #5)

Then there’s Elizabeth Law, who has shepherded so many books into being – the forest of feedback

If I have any doubts about what to do next, it’s this tough love.

Time to apply some mojo. I’m going in.

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