Writers work alone. In a vacuum. When you spend months or years on a piece, you get totally immersed in it. And when you are totally immersed in your writing, you can’t critique or judge it yourself.
Because you’re just too damn close to it. You might not think you are, but trust me, you are. You’ve likely fallen in love with your characters. And you’re certain your descriptions evoke your setting brilliantly. And your plot? A page turner to be sure!
How to Establish a Regular Writing Practice
So here we go with some advice on how to establish a regular writing practice.
Conversely, maybe you suddenly decide everything you have written ever in the history of the world sucks. Big time. You’re the worst writer ever. For sure. I’m almost 100% sure this is not the case, but it will behoove you to find out. Or at least learn the areas you do need to improve.
But you will not know this for sure until you get fresh eyes on your precious words. You’ve worked hard on this story, and you’ve rewritten and revised until it is shiny like a precious jewel. Or, so you think.The time has come to get some feedback on your writing.
How do you know your cherished gem of a novel is ready to see the light of day?
It’s a big, scary, critical world out there.
What you need are other readers to weigh in on your work. Every writer can benefit from letting trusted readers look at their work before starting the submitting process.
Where to Get Feedback
There are several ways you can approach finding readers for your writing.
You have several options for finding feedback: taking a class, working with a writing group, finding a crit partner, hiring a writing coach, hiring a developmental editor, finding beta readers, or relying on your agent or editor.
How do you know which option is the right one for you? Let’s take a look at them, one by one.
Take a class
Many community colleges offer extension classes in writing, and lots of writers also teach privately. Refer to the Google to locate classes that suit you. Classes can be a great way to learn, but the format may not allow a lot of personal attention for your writing.
Join a writing group
Critique groups abound! Many of them are quite good and can be very helpful to your career — my novel would not have been published without the input of my group! These groups will meet on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, and read short excerpts each session. It may take you a few tries to find the right one for you, but keep at it. I love my critique group and trust the other writers’ comments. And, we have a lot of fun, drinking wine and eating snacks. Besides reviewing the actual work, in a good group lots of useful tidbits about writing will come out.
Find a crit partner
This is an alternative to joining a writing group. Some writers work well paired with other writers and love to exchange chapters for review. This is especially helpful if you are both working on similar projects. You can send each other work and schedule time to talk to review it, or critique via email.
Send it out to beta readers
Many writers prefer to get an idea of how the whole book reads — and thus will select trusted beta readers to send their novel to. You can find beta readers through friends, family members, and other writers. Bear in mind that your beta readers do not have to be writers themselves. Some of the best are just avid readers.
Hire a coach
Working one-on-one with a mentor or a coach can be a fabulous way to get feedback on your work and light a fire to write in your belly. Each coach will work in a slightly different manner, and most will happily schedule a time to discuss their practices with you. Many coaches, myself included, will work with you as you write the manuscript, and also help you with such all-important things as maintaining a regular writing practice and keeping your writing energy strong.
Hire a developmental editor
Once your manuscript is finished, you might want to find a good editor to read it. He or she will read, annotate, and send you a report. Feedback such as this is incredibly helpful.
Send it to your agent
Once you find begin working with an agent, she may serve as your first reader. My agent reads my initial drafts and comments on them — and I pay close attention to what she says because she’s also a great editor.
Okay, so you’ve decided on one of these options. What should you expect? How can you best get ready for this new stage of your writing?
How to Prepare
Don’t enter into the critique process lightly. Some knowledge of what lies ahead and how you can best deal with it is helpful. Here are some tips:
Investigate your commitment
You’ve successfully written, so obviously you’re committed to the craft. But are you truly committed to learning the most that you possibly can about your work? Are you ready to take the time that any of these options will require?
Be ready to listen
In many MFA workshops, the format requires the person whose work is being discussed to sit quietly without making any comments herself. No defending, not rationalizing, no ifs and buts. Even if your group or coach or class does not require this, its a good rule of thumb — you might miss some good points if you’re busy talking about your work.
Maintain an open mind
Your initial reaction to the feedback might be negative, but it can be difficult to listen to criticism, however well-intentioned of your work. Try to stay open to the suggestions others give you. In the moment, you may not like them, but back at your desk you might just see some value there.
Don’t let emotions cloud your vision
Emotions easily get in the way. No matter what anybody says, our writing is personal — very personal. And when someone is picking it apart, it can feel like your baby is being destroyed. Remember, if you’ve found the right group, class or coach, they have your writing’s best interests at heart.
Be ready to step it up
Any one of these options will result in an increased clarity on the page. Be prepared to improve your writing. Be prepared to learn all kinds of things about yourself, too!
I hope this helps you find the right kind of feedback for you. Let me know if you have any further questions.
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Charlotte Rains Dixon is the author of the novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior (Vagabondage Press, February 2013), and articles published in magazines such as Vogue Knitting, The Oregonian and Pology, to name only a few, and her short fiction has been published in Somerset Studios, The Trunk and the Santa Fe Writer’s Project. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Spalding University in 2003, and has been teaching and coaching writers ever since, both privately and as an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University’s Write program. She’s been blogging about writing, creativity, and motivation at charlotterainsdixon.com since 2007. She is repped by Erin Niumata at FolioLiterary. Visit her website at charlotterainsdixon.com and her travel site at letsgowrite.com.