Please Read This

It went something like this: Girl discovers that she digs writing. Finally, after much talking, she writes. She shows all her friends and family, then makes more changes, shows everyone again. Oddly, not everyone is as keen to read her writing. She pushes on. This time she’s sure this is the version that will knock everyone’s socks off. She waits in the shadows, ready to strike with her masterpiece in hand and POW!

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says casually and “Oh, while you’re here can you read this?

But, opposition strikes, and she’s met with “Ahhhh! Stop doing that!”  or “Not again!” or “I can’t read it now I have to… go.”

Dang it!

Yes, that girl was me. I survived and lived to write more tales, and this is how to get willing and constructive feedback from friends and family without drugging, beating or guilting them.

I was of the viewpoint that I needed feedback from friends and family before showing my work publicly. Unfortunately, I had no one raising a hand saying “Pick me, pick me to read the latest version of your masterpiece!” Instead, I was met with a general evasiveness and an unsaid unwillingness. I began dreading asking, and once or twice while in a hurry to meet a deadline begged for it. You can see how that would not work, right? It’s demoralizing for starters. The whole affair started to make me downright grumpy. Did it cross my mind that I was a terrible writer? Yes, but tell me what works and doesn’t so I can get better. That may sound quite needy, but I see this as a particular phenomenon, and I’ll get to that.

With all of this on my mind, it began to dawn on me that surely I can’t be alone in this? There must be other new writers out there who have had similar experiences and how many out there have given up because of a lack of interest from others on reading their writing?

I started to write an article: “How to keep your artist friend happy”.  It contained nuggets like “It takes guts to show someone your work!!!@!!” and gems like “ If you’re given something to read by a new writer you had better read it, freakin’ enjoy it, critique it constructively or suffer the consequences of possibly crushing a writer’s dream.”

And then I realized how absurd that sounded.

It was like a B grade horror movie. I wanted to look away but couldn’t. Could it be that there is an etiquette or a technology to getting feedback and that I had broken every rule?

Too soon:

Showing a story or article too early in its development will give your reader a taste but could make them lose their appetite for more.  I made the mistake of showing my work as early as the first stages of the first draft. Partly because I was excited about the story and couldn’t wait to share it, but also because I couldn’t handle long periods of writing and needed that “inflow” of feedback. The result was detrimental to getting someone to re-look at my writing.  Eventually, I bit the bullet and pushed myself to sit and write for longer. I held off from asking the first person that walked by from reading what I had just written. By doing this, it allowed me to iron out the kinks on my own which made me a better writer. It also increased my confidence and helped me develop my style of writing which when I did show people they remarked how far my writing had come.

So, no matter how tempting, and believe me I know its tempting, get that piece of writing to a solid stable point before showing it around.

Too often:

Showing your work each time you do a new version, each time you fix the grammatical errors or make a structural change can wear your reader out. What seems like a big change to you, can feel like a tedious change to the person having to re-read your writing. Consider that the time you have with your reader is finite and each time they sit down and read your writing you use some of that precious time.

You can avoid dependence on seeking an outside person for feedback by simply stepping away from your writing for a period. When you come back, you’ll find things that you missed or areas that need work, and you’ll be glad you didn’t show it. Hey, you might come back and find that it’s awesome and you were on the right track after all.

A side note on grammar,  if your grammar is not so hot consider a program that can help with this such as Grammarly. I’m not getting any kickbacks on mentioning that program btw.  I’ve used it, it’s got a free version, and I’ve found it quite good.  Your writing might be great, but if your grammar snot (just jokes – is not), it might get in the way of your reader seeing the true heart of your story or article.

Why am I showing this now?

So, now you’ve done it. You’re ready for the big reveal. At this point, it’s good to ask the question “Why am I showing this?” If it’s for approval reasons rather than constructive feedback, it might be good to look at this and determine if this will end badly.

Another question to ask yourself,  is this written with a slant towards someone? Did you write this piece and make adaptions or not include things because someone might not agree or like it that way? Does this negatively affect your story or somehow cut its true potential?

Who Should I Show?   

Okay, you’ve written a story or article that is ready to see the light of day. You deliver it with bells and whistles to your friend or family member, but they never get back to you. You’re crushed! It’s very easy at this point to immediately begin asking yourself if there is something wrong with your writing that made them not want to finish it or respond? But, fret not it’s not always for negative reasons.

So, what happened? You may never know however there is one step that you can take that can save you from a lot of heartache, get you the right feedback and it doesn’t involve stalking and that is to ask yourself, do they qualify to give me feedback?

Consider the best candidate. For example, you’ve written a fantasy children’s book with fairies, elves, and goblins that are aimed at ten-year-old girls.  You hand it over to your sixty-year-old next door neighbor, who has no kids and likes to read crime. You being that nice gal next door always typing away at the window or maybe that hunk with the junk next door, make her agree, and she does out of curiosity.  But getting her to read the entire 200-pages of your book might become a chore to her, and as a result, the quality and importance of feedback are far less valuable than that of your ten your old niece. If you are writing Sci-Fi and get your cousin to read your work and she can’t stand you and prefers erotic fantasy, then it’s more than likely the feedback is going to be slanted if you get any at all.  Of course, this all depends on the individual and goes on a case by case basis.

Questions when finding the right candidate are:

Do they like to read? If reading physically repulses them and they boast that they can count the number of books they’ve read this life on their fingers than straight up chances are they will not be chomping at the bit to read your 50,000-word novel.

Do they have time to read? A new parent, someone who works long hours, has trouble sitting for periods of time, has a medical condition or is getting broken sleep might not have time or stamina to sit and really pay attention to reading and critiquing your work.

Do they read that genre and is it right for them? It’s like getting your husband to read Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not his cup of tea, but your friend sure likes it and see how much the feedback would differ. Consider who would enjoy your writing and what is the demographic.

Does the person have your best interests in mind? Are they likely to get jealous that you’ve written this? What type of person are they? Okay, I’ll be honest I have been possessed by the green-eyed monster. It’s hard not to when you’re struggling to make it over the finish line, and the person next to you is already past the finish line and having tea and cakes.  It might work better to find someone in a different field to writing or someone who is well established as a writer. That just keeps things simple and avoids the green-eyed monster from rearing up.

Are they truthful? Will they be honest with the feedback or just feed your ego? Do they not want to offend you? You might be able to think of a particular friend or family member that refuses to say anything negative about your work. They are complete darlings, we love them and can be helpful to tell you what works and what they liked. Be prepared that they will skip over on anything they didn’t like.

All of these questions and I’m sure there are more, can affect the quality, honesty, length of time it takes to get feedback and whether you get feedback back at all. It can also save you re-writing work that was great in the first place.

Another option is to source feedback from a professional editor. This will cost the mullah but will provide external, professional and unbiased feedback. Again I would name out what you are looking for in an editor and do thorough research on how what to look for when choosing an editor that is right for you.  Finding an editor with good reviews or through word of mouth is usually a good place to start.

Are they consenting?

Hands down you want a willing person to read your writing; It can make all difference to the quality of the feedback. You might be saying ”Well duh!” But, you’d be surprised how many people, including myself, have forgotten to ask and have assumed that because they are family or friends, they will be in full agreement. Dumping it in their lap with a “Here, read this now,” can greatly affect the quality and quantity of feedback.

Asking them would be the most obvious question. Making a designated time is also good if they live a busy life and have their own goals and dreams. But, if it never seems to happen then it’s time to find someone who can. Don’t ever take it personally. Someone once told me that it is quite a lot of pressure and harder than it looks to give feedback to someone close to you. They’ve seen you writing for hours, and to voice that they wouldn’t quite write it that way is difficult to say or they could be thinking “What do I know anyway? It’s not my story. What If this is fine and I’m changing what could be the best novel in history? ”

Missing Something?

The fact that I had to show someone so much and so often was enough for me to realize that somewhere in my writing was a hole. Somewhere I have missing information or misunderstanding that is making me unconfident in this area.

That doesn’t mean that I am a bad writer. It just means that I have a missing piece of technology on the art of writing. I can either handle this with practice until I figure it out or narrow it down and work on it until I own it.

Remember it’s just feedback. You don’t have to listen to it if you don’t want to, after all,  you are the storyteller, and you get to decide what happens.


Special thanks for the Hulk image courtesy of ErikaWittlieb and Steampunk image courtesy of Mysticsartdesign

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