As my second novel, The Art of Survival, goes to press, I want to pick up again, The Art of Breathing, the third in the series. I am privileged to be part of the vibrant writing community locally, and I had given my draft to three of my fellow writers. They are now coming back to me with comments, questions and possible solutions.
I believe that some writers, particularly perhaps novice writers, wait too long to ask for feedback on their work. I suspect this is due to a mix of fear and shame and becoming habituated at school/college to handing in our ‘best work’ to be ‘marked’. If I gave my ‘best work’ to my ‘first’ readers, I would find it very hard to listen to anything but praise. I want feedback when I’ve got to the point in my writing when I know I could make it better, but I’m not sure how. It’s like I’ve got to the lip of the summit and I need my ‘first’ readers to give me a hand up so I can properly see the landscape I have created. From there I spot where things are indistinct or where things are too bold/dominating or where they’ve got into a tangle.
I choose my ‘first’* readers carefully. I want them to be discerning readers, to respect my style and to understand the writing process. I also want them to be able to say what needs to be said in a way that I can hear and act upon it. There’s a lot of trust involved. I watch my fellow writers for how they give critical feedback, for how they receive it, for their tastes and approaches, before I will ask them to support me.
(* I have heard the phrase beta readers used in this context, I am not sure where that usage comes from, if someone would like to enlighten me?)
Giving feedback on a 60,000 plus word novel is time consuming. I am not paying my ‘first’ readers even though they are basically doing the job of the ‘structural’ editor which I can’t afford. I am aware of, and grateful for, their commitment. I do try to give back, in terms of supporting their writing endeavours and (it goes without saying) coffee, tea, cake, lunch… An interesting aside: I heard Ann Cleeves speak at Ayton library recently, and she said that publishers ‘these days’ basically wanted to an edited manuscript; editors did not have the time to edit. So most of the editing work on her novels is done by a colleague and her agent.
Now I have (almost) received all of my feedback, I have to tackle the re-writing. I feel a blend of being daunted and excitement. To move onto another metaphor, it’s like I have created a garment which I know has problems with its fit and there are seams poorly sewn. Some trusted colleagues have come along, done their bit and I now have the unstitched pieces in front of me. I have a list of guidelines beside me, but now it’s down to me to somehow create a wearable gown.
How about you, when do you like to received feedback? And from whom? How do you feel about rewriting? Any tips on tackling it?