It’s been a toxic two weeks, but they’ve given me something to mull over. This bad boy’s gonna be a multi-parter, I think, because there’s so much ground to cover. Let’s talk about the feedback that we receive while writing our work, what gets thrown at us after the story has been completed, and how to deal with both the overly pleasant and utterly negative.
When Do I Seek Feedback?
Well, that sort of depends on the author and what they’re writing. Some would prefer to not show anyone their work until it’s in a completed (at least first draft) state. Others look for a little help while still early in writing to make sure their on the right track. I’m strongly in the first camp and would rather not show anyone anything until I’ve at least gotten it all out of my head. Being in the MFA program, that’s not an option. We have to hand in assignments that are bits and pieces and scenes from of thesis novels on the regular. I get it, I’m committed to it, so cool whatever. I’ll deal.
But, those authors who are not required to show their work to others and are uncomfortable doing so until it’s in a semi-finished state should NOT do so.
Personal opinion, yes, but based on real life experience. Here’s the thing, when you’re writing a first draft of something, all you’re really doing is transferring the story from you head to your hand to a piece of paper. That’s it. You get into the flow, into the zone, and just run with it. The words fall out and everything rocks and pretty soon you look up and it’s three hours later. You’re 5,000 words deeper into your story and there a moment of relief. You can breath. The story isn’t choking you anymore. It’s a beautiful Zen thing very akin to the aftermath of a killer orgasm.
That whole system can be burned to the ground by too much interference from the outside. Your story dies, uncompleted due to fear, anxiety, and a subconscious urge to do better, please someone, or throw yourself down a set of stairs.
A Writer’s Biggest Opponent is Self-Doubt
Now, if you’re okay with other’s seeing your work before it’s done, at least pieces of it, they can be a great big help beside just pointing out typos and misuse of the word “tug.” There’s a couple of moments that a professor gave me some insight that I hadn’t thought of, or a fellow student. One person even gave me a whole answer that I would have never seen on my own. Because I’m being forced out of my comfort zone by seeking feedback before my work is done, I’ve been able to use some of the examples and avenues brought to my attention by said interactions. Cool, win-win.
An author should always look for feedback after the first draft, then the second draft, and even the third.
All that information you receive from readers, editors, teachers, students, the neighbors, whomever; that’s all information that could possibly make your work better. If people are taking the time to read your book, then most of them genuinely want to help you and your story. Some of it may not be super helpful or specific. In that case, you can always ask questions of the reader. But what do you do when the feedback you’re receiving is all negative? Well, if it happens at the wrong time, self-doubt steps in and ruins everything. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself second guessing instead of being inspired, going back through what you’ve already written instead of adding to it, and losing all forward momentum. Believe me, I’ve been there. It’s a terrible black place that smells like half-eaten egg sandwiches and cat litter.
Next week I’ll cover kinds and quality of feedback, after I pull some dynamic dialogue out of the air and sprinkle it with nonsense.