Writers Need Feedback

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?

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12 thoughts on “Writers Need Feedback

  1. Priscilla Francis

    i love all kinds of feedback.
    for grammar and sentence construction i would go to someone whose linguistic skills are refined by their voracious reading; reading is a skill in itself!
    for content value i enjoy getting feedback from those whose ethos and outlook in life i respect.
    for making sure that i am not writing something outdated i will go for feedback from someone who is keeping up with the times.

    Reply
    1. Kate Evans Post author

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right, of course, writers need feedback from many different kinds of people, I would always try and pay a professional proof reader, for instance.

      Reply
      1. Priscilla Francis

        yes, we are spoilt for choice 🙂 🙂
        and there is a “teacher” hiding in even all kinds of unlikely sources.
        simply no excuse for those like me who may not be able to afford professional guidance.
        i think our genuine desires to communicate via our writings and our willingness to be receptive can even attract the feedback needed.
        that ofcourse does not mean we sit
        passively…

  2. Lani

    I enjoyed all forms of feedback that I had received because, firstly, I was touched that my friends took the time to even read it and give me notes. Secondly, I like to see what grabbed readers attention and where I needed to improve. But mostly, I needed to see where my grammar mistakes were.

    So my first round of edits were from friends who just read for content. And my second was for grammar in particular. (different set of friends)

    When I didn’t like it (oops) was when someone said he would do it, but then didn’t. But I ended up doing the same thing with a review because I was not prepared for the writing to leave me angry over the writer’s pov. So, I feel really cautious now about saying I’ll write a review. (This person isn’t a friend, and maybe this is when it pays to know who you are helping and vice versa).

    Reply
    1. Kate Evans Post author

      Thank you Lani for your comments. I am a bit shy of offering to do reviews or ‘first’ reads, mainly because of the time element and also unless I know somebody as a writer well enough for a proper discussion I don’t know if what I am offering is what is required. I’ve done enough ‘first’ reads in the past where the writer I was doing it for obviously just wanted me to say, yeah, fab, and I didn’t. It was a waste of everyone’s time. I prefer a certain amount of reciprocity.

      Reply
  3. The Hedgeblog

    I haven’t finished my book yet. So I can’t comment on any feedback. But I think when the time comes, I will be apprehensive about putting my work ‘out there’, so to speak! I think you are very brave to do so, and I wish you the very best of luck!! 😊

    Reply
    1. Kate Evans Post author

      Thanks for this comment, I think asking for feedback is scary and it is important to find fellow writers who are respectful of your work and want to support you. Best of luck to you too.

      Reply
  4. paulanthonyspencer

    Very interesting article Kate. I’ve come to really savour and value the feedback I receive through my theatre groups. As writers, sometimes I think we can get too close to our work (at least, that’s true for me) – sometimes it’s tough to see where characters might need to be deepened, plot points resolved, and new possibilities opened up. That being said, we must trust our own vision, too. Sometimes I hear a great idea from someone about one of my stories, and it suddenly feels like I’m writing someone else’s tale. Usually, though, I find it incredibly valuable to get a feel for what might resonate and might not – as long as I am lucky enough to have multiple voices reviewing.

    Reply
    1. Kate Evans Post author

      Thanks for this Paul. I agree with you about listening to feedback AND holding onto our own vision, absolutely. I got some feedback recently on my third novel which was really useful. The reader said he’d missed one of the characters which had appeared in the first two, and I thought, oh I’ll do a little scene putting her with one of the main characters, and it’s taken off! Fascinating how putting two characters in a room without a real plan can suddenly make things happen.

      Reply

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