Writing for yourself is therapeutic. It’s pressure free. It’s unwinding.
Writing something you want others to read, however, is a little different. Getting someone else to actually read what you’ve written isn’t always easy in the first place, and just because someone is reading doesn’t mean you’re going to get quality feedback.
Family and friends are great for a, “good job!” or, “I like it,” and sometimes, that’s what you need to hear. But, if you want to improve, you’ll need thick skin and someone who’s not afraid to tell you like it is.
Sometimes, that means you have to show your writing to strangers.
For many, this is scary. Writing is often deeply personal, and having someone critique words you’ve poured your soul into can hurt. A lot. It can be discouraging at worst, to the point you decide maybe writing isn’t going to be your future, after all. You might start to think maybe you’re not talented enough to sell books.
But at best, when you hear, “I couldn’t put it down,” or “I want to read more,” the encouragement feels like a high. These are people who have no other reason to compliment your work other than they really, truly, actually loved it. And that will fuel you to write like nothing else can.
Everyone writes something really shitty every now and again. Everyone writes a sentence they think is the absolute tits, only to hear, “I’d word that a little differently,” or, “I don’t get it.” I’ve definitely been there. More than I’d like to admit. I’m still there.
Critiques have to be taken with a grain of salt. At first, I was posting my novel in progress chapter by chapter, but have found that that’s probably not the best approach for me. In the process of editing according to every reasonable critique I received, I think I may have edited the life out of my work, and everything that made it truly mine. I received so many conflicting opinions (“Change it to this,” and “I liked it better before you made those changes,”) I felt several times that I needed to just start over.
And that’s not really very helpful.
In this process, however, I learned so much in such a short time. Receiving feedback on my writing for the first time might be the best thing to ever happen to my writing. It was both humbling and encouraging. I learned in which areas I suck (description), and which areas I’m kickass (characterization), and how to improve in both.
If you have a draft, I strongly suggest you put it through the ringer. It’ll hurt, and it’ll feel good, but most importantly, you’ll learn what is and isn’t working. You’ll identify your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. The only warning I feel the need to give is this:
Have. Thick. Skin.
You don’t need to defend your writing to the critique giver. You should never take a critique as a personal insult. Be gracious, even if it was scathing.
And the good news is, you don’t have to agree!
Not all advice you’ll receive is good. Some is just silly. I could provide plenty of examples of horrible suggestions I’ve received.
In the end, I think just about all feedback is helpful, even if you don’t make a single edit.
So, where can one reliably find the elusive feedback?
I found Scribophile a while back. It’s not your typical community where it’s hard to fit into the cliquey groups of writers, where people might ignore your work. After all, in order for its members to receive critiques on their work, they must critique the works of others.
There is a paid and free membership. I opted for the paid, and it was so worth it. But, both ways work like this:
You receive karma for critiquing the work of others. Scribophile, by the way, has a wonderful critique system. You can highlight, mark out, and enter text in the middle of someone’s submitted work. Or, if you prefer, just type out a review afterward. (I find the former so much easier.)
Once you critique enough, you’ll have enough karma to submit your work. It will go into a spotlight for a certain number of critiques (I believe 3 critiques for the “main” spotlight, which will be your only option as a free member), then leaves the spotlight so another work may enter it. Paid members can chose different spotlights to be sure the right people critique their work, and the work can stay in a spotlight for more than three critiques.
I strongly encourage any writer to try this out. It is also possible to find groups within the site to join –which are, again, not cliquey but welcoming and helpful –to trade critiques with more desirable audiences. You know, since you may not benefit as much from having a poet, a romance writer, and a nonfiction writer tearing apart the first chapter of your space opera sci fi novel.
For now, I’m holding back on submitting my work chapter by chapter so I can actually get my novel written, but I’m glad I gave it a try early on. I learned and improved so much, my subscription was worth every penny I spent on it.
If you know of a great community for receiving feedback, please let me know!